Friday, February 03, 2023

WM 265: Is Matthew 23:14 in the Bible?



I recently finished preaching through Matthew 23 (find complete Matthew sermon series here). This is Matthew’s record of Christ’s extended and withering discourse or speech against the scribes and the Pharisees, as he moves closer to the cross.

In the red-letter edition of the AV, other than the first verse and the first word of the second verse, all other verses are in red (vv. 2b-39).

The other two “Synoptic” Gospels offer much shorter accounts of this speech. See Mark 12:38-40 and Luke 20:45-47.

In Matthew’s account one of the repeated statements first appears in 23:13a: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” This is, of course, a great prophetic statement by Christ.

In the traditional text there are eight of these prophetic woes (vv. 13, 14, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29).

But in the modern critical text there are only seven woes, because Mathew 23:14 is one of the verses that does not appear in the modern critical text (Matthew 17:21 and 18:11 are also omitted in the critical text). So, it is one of the so-called “missing verses” (which M. Everhard, for some bizarre reason, thinks we traditionalists believe was removed by aliens or some other kind of conspiracy theory).

Matthew 23:14: What is the issue?

When you look more closely at this verse, you see that it was obviously a matter of controversy in the transmission of the NT, not only as to whether it is authentic to Matthew, but also, if authentic, where it should be located (because in the Majority Text the verse is present, but it appears after v. 12 and before v. 13).


Traditional Text:

Standard versional order: v. 13, v. 14.

KJV Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

14 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.

Scrivener Matthew 23:13 ουαι υμιν γραμματεις και φαρισαιοι υποκριται οτι κλειετε την βασιλειαν των ουρανων εμπροσθεν των ανθρωπων υμεις γαρ ουκ εισερχεσθε ουδε τους εισερχομενους αφιετε εισελθειν

14 ουαι δε υμιν γραμματεις και φαρισαιοι υποκριται οτι κατεσθιετε τας οικιας των χηρων και προφασει μακρα προσευχομενοι δια τουτο ληψεσθε περισσοτερον κριμα

Note: While the entire printed TR tradition includes v. 14, the order with v. 13 varies: 14-13 (Stephanus; Beza); 13-14 (Elzevirs).

The Protestant translation tradition prominently confirms the 13-14 order (Tyndale, Geneva, KG Hungarian, Reina Valera, Dutch Statenvertaling).

Modern Critical Text:

Omits v. 14

Translations based on the modern critical text omit v. 14 and skip from v. 13 to v. 15, with some editions placing v. 14 in the footnotes.

Majority/Byzantine Text:

Includes v. 14 but in the order v. 14, v. 13.

Berean Standard Bible Matthew 23:13 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You defraud widows of their houses, and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let in those who wish to enter.

Patriarchal Text (1904) Matthew 23:13 Οὐαὶ δὲ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι κατεσθίετε τὰς οἰκίας τῶν χηρῶν καὶ προφάσει μακρὰ προσευχόμενοι· διὰ τοῦτο λήψεσθε περισσότερον κρῖμα.

14 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι κλείετε τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων· ὑμεῖς γὰρ οὐκ εἰσέρχεσθε, οὐδὲ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἀφίετε εἰσελθεῖν.

Examining External Evidence

Based on the NA28 apparatus:

In support of v. 13 followed by v. 14: Family 13, Old Latin, Clementine Vulgate, Curetonian Syriac, and some Bohairic mss. Note: This is a minority TR reading with respect to word order.

In support of omitting v. 14: Alpeh, B, D, L, Z, Theta, family 1, 33, Old Latin a, Sinaitic Syriac.

In support of v. 14 followed by v. 13: K, W, Gamma, Delta, 0102, 0107, and the Majority/Byzantine, Syriac Peshitta, Syriac Harklean. Pickering says this is 98% of extant mss.

Examining Internal Evidence

The most plausible explanation for v. 14 to be absent in some manuscripts is the unintentional error of homoio-arcton (having the same or a similar beginning). This would then lead to confusion when this error was recognized and the verse was reintroduced back into the text.

Metzger in his Textual Commentary, Second Ed., however, makes a different case for omission, arguing, “That v. 14 is an interpolation derived from the parallel in Mk 12:40 or LK 20:47 is clear…” (50). He gives this an {A} rating.

Metzger’s position reflects a bias in modern textual criticism against harmonization of content or agreement among the Gospels.

The overwhelming Majority, including many older mss., across a wide geographical spectrum, retain both verses.

This leaves only the question of verse order. Printed editions of the TR are divided but there seems to be a strong consensus among Protestant translations going back to Tyndale, et al. that the order v. 13, then v. 14 be followed.

In recently preaching on this text, I can affirm that v. 13 makes logical (homiletical) sense, given that it provides a broad description of hypocritical behavior (shutting persons out of the kingdom) that is then followed by more specific examples of this, beginning with the devouring the houses of widows and making long prayers. In Mark and Luke, this teaching is followed by the account of the widow in the temple (but omitted in Matthew).

An Internal Argument Based on Intrinsic Probability

In preparing to preach this chapter, I also ran across this assessment in R.V.G. Tasker’s Matthew commentary in the Tyndale NT Commentaries Series (IVP, 1961):

In the AV eight ‘woes’ follow; but it is almost certain that they should be reduced to seven, for the ‘woe’ contained in v. 14, which is omitted in RV, is not found in the most ancient witnesses to the text, and would seem to have been a later insertion into the text of Matthew from Mark xii.40 and Luke xx.47. It is intrinsically probable that our evangelist, with his Jewish fondness for the symbolism of numbers, made a collection of seven (217).

Having just spent the last two plus years reading and preaching through Matthew, however, I do not find this argument particularly convincing.

One may well make an argument for the possibility of John’s interest in the symbolic meaning of seven (like the Seven I AM sayings and Seven Signs [Miracles] in his Gospel, and the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 1-2, etc.), but it is less convincing with Matthew.

There are indeed seven parables in Matthew 13, but it seems Matthew has less interesting in structuring his Gospel with seven-fold patterns than in offering a variety of arrangements. A few examples:

Five fulfilment citations in Matthew 1-2: 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23.

Five discourses (as noted by B. W. Bacon): chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-25.

Ten Miracles in Matthew 8-9:

            The healing of the leper (8:1-4);

The healing of the Centurions servant (8:5-13);

The healing of Peters mother-in-law and many possessed with devils (8:14-17);

The stilling of the storm (8:23-27);

The healing of the Gergesene demoniacs (8:28-34);

The healing of the man sick of the palsy (9:1-8);

The healing of a certain rulers daughter (9:18-19, 23-26);

The healing of the woman with the issue of blood (9:20-22);

The healing of two blind men (9:27-31);

The healing of the dumb man (9:32-34).

Six Parables after the final arrival in Jerusalem broken into two sets of three:

First three: Two sons (21:28-32; The householder and the ungrateful husbandmen (21:33-44); The Kings wedding for his Son (22:1-14).

Second three: Ten Virgins (25:1-13); Talents (25:14-30); Judgement of Nations (25:31-46).

Four Controversies in the Temple:

Tribute to Caesar (22:15-22); Sadducees and Resurrection (22:23-33); Great Commandment (22:34-40); Psalm 110:1 and Davids Lord (22:41-46).

From this we see the idea that Matthew shows an intrinsic probability to offer seven woes rather than eight seems unlikely. It may, however, provide a suggestion as to why some scribes might have intentionally sought to remove one of the eight and reduce the number to seven.


Based on overwhelming external evidence, as well as internal evidence, we can affirm the authenticity of v. 14. We may also affirm with the greater Protestant translation tradition that its most fitting location in Matthew 23 is following upon v. 13.

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