Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

KJV Verse: 

Mat 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.

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

But boo-hoo for you, you scholars and elitist, actors! Because you celebrate the realm of the skies in front of people. This is because you don't really take yourselves in but you also don't let those who are taking themselve in to take in."

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This verse is a one of wordplay and humor. It used a lot of Christ's forms of humor including exaggeration, double meanings, repeating words, and so on. This is all lost in translation. This sets the comedic tone for a series of verses that sound like harsh criticism, but which, while certainly critical, are really extremely playful.

This section begins a long condemnation of the religious leaders of the time that continues until the end of this chapter, Mat 23:39. The beginning of this verse ("Woe to you") is repeated many times in this section, the repetition itself is a form of humor. The KJV translation makes it seem like a threat, but translation into today's English seem more humorous ("boo-hoo to you").

The Greek word translated as "but" joins phrases in an adversarial way. Since it always falls in the second position, translating it as "however" often captures its feeling better.

"Woe" is from an exclamation of grief, meaning "woe" or "alas." Today we would say "sadly [for you]" or "boo-hoo to you." More about this phrase in this article on Christ's humor, under the subtitle, "exaggeration."

"Scribes" is translated from a Greek word describing anyone who used written records in their job, "secretary", "registrar,' and "scholar." However, Christ used it to name those scholars who specifically studied the Bible and wrote about its meanings.

"Pharisees" is an example of where we use the Greek word as the name of the relitious sect, instead of translating it. In Greek, the word means the "separatists" or "the judgmental," but it is from a Hebrew word meaning "distinguished" or "elite."

The Greek for "the hypocrites" is another great example of a word that has taken its English meaning from how it is used in the Bible rather than the original Greek. The primary meaning during Christ's era was "an actor."

The word translated as "for" introduces a statement of fact or cause. It is not the word normally translated as "for" int the Gospel, but a word normally translated as "that."

The word translated as "ye shut up" is an entertaining bit of wordplay. It is a verb that means "to close" or "to shut in," but, in this form, it is also a similar form of another verb that means "to make famous" and "to celebrate in song." The listener would hear the sense of "celebrate" initially, but the sense of "close" comes later in the verse.

The phrase, "the kingdom of heavens" is discussed in more detail in this article.

The word translated as "kingdom" can be the region, the reign, the castle or the authority of a ruler. Christ does not seem to use it to mean a physical region, so its translation as "reign" or "realm" seems more appropriate. This is especially true because the "reign" of a king means the execution of his will.

The word translated as "heaven" means sky, the climate, and the universe. It is plural, not singular. It also meant the home of the gods in a physical sense: the sun, moon, and planets were named for the gods. More about the word in this article.

The Greek word translated as "against" means "in front of" referring to place and when used to apply to time means "beforehand."

The Greek word for "Men" means "people" and "peoples" in plural as it is here.

The word translated as "for" can be treated as supporting a dependent clause, or, to prevent a run-on sentence, translated as a "this is because..." to start a new sentence.

The pronoun "you...yourselves" is used explicitly as the subject of the sentence. Since it is already part of the verb, its use here creates emphasis on the "you." This emphasit is added by adding the "yourselves." However, the verb also adds this idea.

The Greek word translated as "neither" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It makes a negative statement of fact. Adding "really" to the sentence to captures the same idea.

"Go in" is from a word that means "go or come into" and has the double meaning of "coming into one's mind." The verb is in a form which indicates someone acting on themselves, so "take yourselves in."

This is the point at which the listener would understand the double meaning of "celebrate" as "shut up."

"Neither" is from a Greek negative meaning "but not" and as both parts of "neither...nor." If it meant "neither...nor" this word would appear twice, but it doesn't. This means the sense is "but not."

The word translated as "suffer ye" primarily means "to let go" or "to send away." This same word is translated as "leave", "forgive", "suffer," and "let" in the New Testament.

"Them that are entering" is from a noun form of the verb above that means to "go or come into" and has the double meaning of "coming into one's mind." It is in the form of a verb acting on itself, "the ones taking themselves in."

"To go in" is from the infinite form of the verb above that means to "go or come into" and has the double meaning of "coming into one's mind."

Greek Vocabulary: 

Οὐαὶ (exclam) "Woe" is from ouai, which is an exclamation of pain or anger meaning "woe" or "alas." 

δὲ "But" is from de which means "but" and "on the other hand." It is the particle that joins sentences in an adversarial way but can also be a weak connective ("and") and explanation of cause ("so") and a condition ("if"). --

ὑμῖν, (pron 2nd pl dat) "To you" is from hymin (humin), which is the 2nd person plural dative pronoun. Dative is the case which indicates to whom something is given. --

γραμματεῖς (noun pl masc nom/acc/voc) "Scribes" is from grammateus, which is generally a "secretary", "registrar", "recorder," and "scholar," but specifically means someone who uses gramma which is Greek for "drawings", "a letter," (as in an alphabet)"diagrams," and "letters" (as in correspondence).]

καὶ "And" is from kai, which is the conjunction joining phrases and clauses, "and," or "but." After words implying sameness, "as" (the same opinion as you). Used in series, joins positive with negative "Not only...but also." Also used to give emphasis, "even", "also," and "just."

Φαρισαῖοι (noun pl masc nom/voc) "Pharisees" is from Pharisaios, which means "the separated", "the separate ones", "separatist" and refers to the religious sect. The word comes from the Hebrew, pharash, which means "to distinguish." So the sense is also "the distinguished" or "the elite."

ὑποκριταί, Hypocrites" is from hypokrites, which means "an interpreter", "an actor", "a stage player," and "a dissembler."

ὅτι "For" is from hoti, which introduces a statement of fact "with regard to the fact that", "seeing that," and acts as a causal adverb meaning "for what", "because", "since," and "wherefore."

κλείετε (verb 2nd pl pres ind act) "Ye shut up" can be one of two words. One is kleio, which means "to shut", "to close", "to bar", "to block up", "to shut in", "to confine," and "to shut up." It is a metaphor for causing the heavens to withhold rain. However, this form of the word is also a form of the verb kleo, which means to "tell of", "make famous," and" "celebrate."

τὴν βασιλείαν (noun sg fem acc) "The kingdom" is from basileia, which means "kingdom", "dominion", "hereditary monarchy", "kingly office," (passive) "being ruled by a king," and "reign."

τῶν οὐρανῶν (noun pl masc gen) "Heaven" is from the Greek ouranos, which means "heaven as in the vault of the sky", "heaven as the seat of the gods", "the sky", "the universe," and "the climate."

ἔμπροσθεν "Against" is from emprosthen, which as an adverb means [of place]"in front of", "before", "forwards," [of time] "before", "of old," and as a preposition, "facing", "opposite", "in front," [of time] beforehand," and [of degree] "preferred before." It also denotes a ranking.

τῶν ἀνθρώπων: (noun pl masc gen) "Men" is from anthropos, which is "man," and, in plural, "mankind." It also means "humanity" and that which is human and opposed to that which is animal or inanimate.

ὑμεῖς (pron 2nd pl nom) "Ye" is from hymeis (humeis), which are the singular nominative form of the second person, "you."

γὰρ "For" comes from gar which is the introduction of a clause explaining a reason or explanation: "for", "since," and "as." In an abrupt question it means "why" and "what."

οὐκ "Neither" is from ou which is the negative adverb for facts and statements, negating both single words and sentences. The other negative adverb, μή applies to will and thought; οὐ denies, μή rejects; οὐ is absolute, μή relative; οὐ objective, μή subjective.

εἰσέρχεσθε, (verb 2nd pl pres ind mp) "Go in" is from eiserchomai which means both "to go into", "to come in", "to enter", "to enter an office", "to enter a charge," (as in court) and "to come into one's mind."

οὐδὲ "Nor" is from oude, which means "but not", "neither", "nor,"and "not even."

τοὺς εἰσερχομένους (part pl pres mp masc acc) "Them that are entering" is from eiserchomai which means both "to go into", "to come in", "to enter", "to enter an office", "to enter a charge," (as in court) and "to come into one's mind." --

ἀφίετε (verb 2nd pl pres ind act) "Suffer ye" is from aphiemi, which means "to let fall", "to send away", "give up", "hand over", "to let loose", "to get rid of", "to leave alone", "to pass by", "to permit," and "to send forth from oneself."

εἰσελθεῖν. (verb aor inf act) "To go in" is from eiserchomai which means both "to go into", "to come in", "to enter", "to enter an office", "to enter a charge," (as in court) and "to come into one's mind."

Wordplay: 

The beginning is a repeated comedic phrase, "boohoo to you." 

The word translated as "shut up" has a double meaning as "celebrate," that listeners wouldn't hear until the second half of the verse. 

The word translated as "go in" and "entering" is repeated three times in different forms in close enough proximity to make the effect humorous. 

Related Verses: