The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire BibleMatthew 23:15
Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…
same character, and woe, are still continued, and a new reason
added, confirming the justness of them, in order to awaken and
convince them, or, however, to caution the people against them:
for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte;
that is, to the
Jewish religion, and their particular sect. There were two sorts of
proselytes among them; one was called (bvwt rg) , "a proselyte of the
gate", one that might dwell in any of their towns, and cities, and
who is thus described F1;
``Who is a proselyte of the gate? whosoever takes upon him,
before three neighbours, that he will not commit idolatry.
R. Meir and the wise men say, whosoever takes upon him the
seven precepts which the sons of Noah took upon them: others
say, these do not come into the general rule of a proselyte
of the gate: who is then a proselyte of the gate? this is a
proselyte, that eats what dies of itself, but takes upon him
to fulfil all the commandments said in the law, except that
which forbids the eating of things that die of themselves.''
But the usual account of such an one is, who agrees to the seven
precepts commanded the children of Noah F2, which were these F3; the
first forbad idolatry, the second blasphemy, the third murder, the
fourth uncleanness, the fifth theft, the sixth required judgment, or
punishment on malefactors, the seventh forbad eating the member of any
creature alive. The other proselyte was called (qdu rg) , "a proselyte
of righteousness"; and he was one that submitted to circumcision F4,
and the rest of the ceremonies of the law; and was in all respects as
an Israelite himself; and of this sort is the text to be understood.
The Ethiopic version reads the words, "baptize one proselyte, and when
he is baptized"; referring to a custom among the Jews, who baptized; or
dipped their proselytes in water, as well as circumcised them; about
which there are great disputes in their writings; some alleging, that
the dipping of them was necessary to the making them proselytes; others
affirming, that it was not:
``a proselyte that is circumcised, and not dipped, dipped,
and not circumcised, the whole follows after, or depends
on circumcision, says R. Eliezer.''
R. Joshua says, even dipping delays it; (i.e. the want of it, hinders
a man from being a proselyte;) but R. Joshua ben Levi says, it should
go according to the tradition of Bar Kaphra; for the tradition of Bar
``that he that is circumcised, and not dipped, lo! he is
right; for there is no proselyte but what is dipped,
because of the pollutions that happen to him F5.''
And elsewhere F6 this is debated in the following manner:
``a proselyte that is circumcised, and not dipped, R.
Eliezer says, lo! this is a proselyte; for so we find
concerning our fathers, that they were circumcised, but
not dipped. One that is dipped, and not circumcised, R.
Joshua says, lo! this is a proselyte; for so we find
concerning our mothers, that they were dipped, but not
circumcised. The wise men say, one that is dipped, and not
circumcised, or circumcised, and not dipped, is no
proselyte, until he is both circumcised and dipped.''
So the dispute ended, and it became a settled point, that one should
never be reckoned a proselyte, unless he was both circumcised and
dipped. And after this it became customary to receive proselytes by
circumcision, dipping, and sacrifice; and the manner was this F7:
``a stranger that comes to be made a proselyte at this time,
they say unto him, what dost thou see, that thou comest to
be made a proselyte? dost thou not know that the
Israelites at this time are miserable, banished, drove
about, and plundered, and chastisements come upon them? If
he says, I know this, but it does not satisfy me, they
receive him immediately, and make known some of the light
commands, and some of the heavy commands to him; and they
acquaint him with the business gleanings, the forgotten
sheaf, the corner of the field left standing, and the
poor's tithe: they also inform him of the penalties of the
commands, and say unto him, know thou, that before thou
camest into this way, thou didst eat fat, and was not
punished with cutting off; thou didst profane the sabbath,
and was not punished with stoning? but now if thou eatest
fat, thou wilt be punished with cutting off; and if thou
profanest the sabbath, thou wilt be punished with stoning:
and as they inform him of the penalties of the precepts,
so they acquaint him with the giving of the rewards of
them; saying to him, know thou that the world to come is
not made but for the righteous; and the Israelites at this
time cannot receive neither much good, nor much
punishment? but they do not multiply words, nor critically
inquire of him; if he receives these things, they
immediately circumcise him; and if there remain in him
obstructions, hindering circumcision, they circumcise him
a second time; and when he is healed they immediately dip
him; and two disciples of the wise men stand over him, and
acquaint him with some of the light commands, and some of
the heavy commands; then he dips, and comes up, and is as
an Israelite in all respects: if a woman, the women set
her in water up to her neck, and two disciples of the wise
men stand by her without, and inform her of some of the
light commands, and some of the heavy commands.''
And, as Maimonides F8 adds, who gives a larger account of this matter,
``she sits in the water, and after that dips herself before
them; and they turn away their faces, and go out, so that
they do not see her, when she comes out of the water.''
From all which it appears, that this affair was moved after our
Lord's time; was not a settled point till a good while after; and is
a custom that has obtained since the Jews were drove out of their
own land; though they pretend to say it was an ancient practice of
their fathers, of which they can give no sufficient proof; wherefore
there could be no regard had to it in this text, and consequently
the Ethiopic version of it is not a right one; nor can the dipping
of proselytes by the Jews be what Christian baptism takes its rise
from, or in any respect be modelled according to it, between which,
in many things, there is a wide difference. Now the Jews were very
diligent and industrious, which is meant by compassing of sea and
land: they used all kinds of methods, ways and means, to gain such a
point, and sometimes very wicked ones.
``Rabbenu Tam F9 allowed a daughter of Israel to change her
religion, and a stranger to lie with her, that she might
confirm it, when he became a proselyte.''
And this they were so exceeding fond of, not out of any regard to the
glory of God, or the good of the souls of men; nor did they really love
the proselytes: and it is often said by them F11, that
``proselytes are hard or uneasy to Israel, as the itch or scab.''
The gloss says, because they were not expert in the commandments, and
were the cause of punishment, and the Israelites were apt to imitate
their works; but they coveted to make them, because hereby either they
strengthened their own party, or filled their purses with their
substance, or got applause and credit among the common people; for the
making a proselyte was reckoned a very great action, and is ascribed to
the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, and made equal to creation F12.
``Says R. Eliezer, in the name of R. Jose ben Zimra, if all
that come into the world were gathered together to create
even one fly, they would not be able to put breath into
it: but you will object what he saith, "the souls they made
in Haran", (Genesis 12:5) , but these are the proselytes whom
Abraham proselyted; but why does he say "made", and not
proselyted? to teach thee, that whoever brings near a
stranger, and proselytes him, "is as if he created him".
You will say Abraham made proselytes, but not Sarah: the
text is, "the souls which they made in Haran": which he
made is not written, but which they made: Abraham
proselyted the men, and Sarah proselyted the women.''
And a little after,
``Jacob made proselytes, as it is written, (Genesis 35:2)
"Jacob said unto his household",''
And in imitation of these they might be fond of making proselytes, but
no further than their own interest was some way or other concerned:
and when he is made, ye make him two fold more the child of hell
for to their former errors in heathenism, some of
which they might still retain, they added new ones, they received
from them, equally as bad, and were but more and more deserving of
hell, and even more than their masters; and besides, were trained up
by them in the most bitter prejudices against Christ, and his
Gospel; and many of them proved more violent persecutors of the
followers of Christ, than the original Jews themselves: see
(Acts 15:5) (14:2,19) Our Lord here seems to oppose a common notion and
saying of their's F13, that when
``one was made a proselyte, he became entirely like a new born
but so far from being like one in innocence and harmlessness, that he
became a child of hell, filled with wrath and malice, and fitted for
destruction; and so opposes another notion of their's, that hellfire
has no power over their disciples, nor even over the transgressors of
Israel F14: but they will find it, by experience, that neither their
descent from Abraham, nor their learning, nor their religion, will save
them from the devouring flames, which their sins have made them so
deserving of, and so are (Mnhyg ynb) , "children of hell" F15; a
Talmudic phrase; the meaning of which they understood well enough, and
which was applicable to them, and more so to their proselytes; and that
as owing to them, which was an aggravation of their own guilt and
F1 T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 64. 2.
F2 Maimon. Hilch. Obede Cochabim, c. 10. sect. 6. & Maacalot Asurot,
c. 11. sect. 7. & Issure Biah, c. 14. sect. 7.
F3 lb. Hilch. Melachim, c. 9. sect. 1.
F4 Zohar in Exod. fol. 36. 1.
F5 T. Hieros. Kiddushin, fol. 64. 4.
F6 T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 46. 1, 2.
F7 Ib. fol 47. 1, 2.
F8 Hilch. Issure Biah, c. 14. sect. 6.
F9 Piske Toseph. Cetubot, art. 7.
F11 T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 47. 2. & 109. 2. Kiddushin, fol. 70. 2. &
Nidda, fol. 13. 2.
F12 Bereshit Rabba, sect. 39. fol. 35. 1. & sect. 84. fol. 72. 3, 4.
F13 T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 22. 1. & 48. 2. & 62. 1. & 97. 2. Maimon.
Hilch. Issure Biah, c. 14. sect. 11. & Eduth, c. 13. sect. 2.
F14 T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 27. 1.
F15 T. Bab. Roshhashanah, fol. 17. 1.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on Matthew 23:15". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/geb/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=023&verse=015>. 1999.