Woe to the Pharisees

The death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is reputed to have been caused by a seizure suffered at a meeting of the Presidium, the Communist party executive committee. Livid with fury, Stalin leaped from his seat, only to crash to the floor unconscious. While other Presidium me … More



There is no place or circumstance that draws a man out and shows what he really is more than at a meal; whether he is surrounded by friends with whom he may have fellowship, or he is in the midst of  enemies who are ready to find fault with him. This Pharisee who invited Jesus home for a meal fit into this later category (vv. 37-41). Perhaps he did it just to catch Jesus in something. When they were ready to eat Jesus did not go through the ceremony that was customary with the Pharisees. This did not refer simply to the washing of the hands but an elaborate system of meaningless gestures. Not only did the Pharisees make a public show of their washing, but they also commanded everyone else to follow a practice originally intended only for the priests. Many professing Christians make the same mistake today as they put more stress on outward ceremonies than on the inward life.

Jesus uses this occasion to bring a severe rebuke to formalism and hypocrisy in religion. He pronounces three woes upon the Pharisees:

  1. Wrong Priorities - Because of the way they emphasize tithing and neglected the more important things (v. 42).
  2. Putting Reputation Above Character - Because of their prideful attitude in seeking the uppermost seats in the synagogue (v. 43).
  3. Insincerity - Because of their hidden uncleanness that contaminated the nation (v. 44).



Of the three woes directed to these Pharisees, which one causes me the most problems? What is the greatest lesson I can learn from this passage?

Luke 11:37-44 (English Standard Version)

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it."

View this passage in NIV (Bible Gateway) »