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Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament

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Matthew 23:5

To be seen of men (prov to teathnai toiv antrwpoiv).
See 6:1 where this same idiom occurs. Ostentation regulates the conduct of the rabbis.

Phylacteries (pulakthria).
An adjective from pulakthr, pulassw (to guard). So a fortified place, station for garrison, then a safeguard, protecting charm or amulet. The rabbis wore tepillin or prayer-fillets, small leather cases with four strips of parchment on which were written the words of Exodus 13:1-10,11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They took literally the words about "a sign unto thy hand," "a memorial between thine eyes," and "frontlets." "That for the head was to consist of a box with four compartments, each containing a slip of parchment inscribed with one of the four passages. Each of these strips was to be tied up with a well-washed hair from a calf's tail; lest, if tied with wool or thread, any fungoid growth should ever pollute them. The phylactery of the arm was to contain a single slip, with the same four passages written in four columns of seven lines each. The black leather straps by which they were fastened were wound seven times round the arm and three times round the hand. They were reverenced by the rabbis as highly as the scriptures, and, like them, might be rescued from the flames on a sabbath. They profanely imagined that God wore the tephillin" (Vincent). It is small wonder that Jesus ridiculed such minute concern for pretentious externalism and literalism. These tephillin "are still worn at the present day on the forehead and left arm by Jews at the daily Morning Prayer" (McNeile) . "The size of the phylacteries indexed the measure of zeal, and the wearing of large ones was apt to take the place of obedience" (Bruce). Hence they made them "broad." The superstitious would wear them as mere charms to ward off evil.

Enlarge the borders (megalunousin ta kraspeda).
In 9:20 we see that Jesus, like the Jews generally, wore a tassel or tuft, hem or border, a fringe on the outer garment according to Numbers 15:38. Here again the Jewish rabbi had minute rules about the number of the fringes and the knots (see on Matthew 9:20). They made a virtue of the size of the fringes also. "Such things were useful as reminders; they were fatal when they were regarded as charms" (Plummer).

 


Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 23:5". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/rwp/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=023&verse=005>. Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960.

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