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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – The Scribes Stand Condemned (20:45-47)
The Scribes Stand Condemned (20:45-47)

The lines between the Jewish leadership and Jesus were drawn since the journey to Jerusalem began. In 11:37-54 the Galilean teacher pronounced a series of woes condemning both the Pharisees and the scribes. Nothing has happened in the interim to change that assessment. So Jesus issues a warning to his disciples that also comes within earshot of the people. Because of the scribes' pride and hypocrisy, the disciples are to beware. The warning is like 12:1.

Pride reveals itself in the scribes' public behavior as they wear their long robes and receive greetings of honor in public places. In fact, rabbis received special salutations (Windisch 1964:498; Lk 11:43). The robes were nicely decorated and ostentatious (Josephus Antiquities 3.7.1 151; 11.4.2 80). Pride was also evident in the scribes' taking the first seats in the synagogue or at feasts. Jesus had condemned such pursuits of honor in 11:43 and 14:7-14. So Jesus is reviewing his displeasure at attitudes he considers unworthy of disciples.

Hypocrisy surfaces in the scribes' treatment of others. The estates of vulnerable widows are devoured, while long prayers create a façade of caring about God and others (11:39; 18:9-14). The scribes' actions contradict their surface practice. "Such men will be punished most severely" (10:14; 11:31-32, 51). Luke often mentions widows or the poor to indicate those God cares for (2:37; 4:25-26; 7:12; 21:1-4; Acts 6:1; 9:39).

How the leadership abused widows is debated. Was the widows' property now dedicated to the temple handled in a way that defrauded them? Did the leaders take undue advantage of their hospitality? Did they accept debt pledges that they knew could not be repaid? Did they charge for legal advice against the dictates of the law? Scholars are not sure. But abuse occurred.

Disciples should avoid such superficial, destructive piety. True devotion comes from the heart, is marked by humility and cares for others; it does not use people.

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