Matthew 23:27 Woe unto you...for you are like whited sepulchres...

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

Sadly for you, scholars and elitists, actors! You are all so similar to tombs, plastered over, so that outwardly they certainly shine with freshness. Inwardly, however, they are laden with bones of corpses and everything foul.

KJV : 

Mat 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This verse continues the patterns we have seen in this section. Other than the largely humorous pattern of repeated phrases, we see a pattern contrasting the "inward and "outward" starting at Mat 23:25. We also see the use of wordplay, which began in that verse. Continuing a larger pattern of the entire section, we see the use of uncommon words, even for ideas Christ typically uses other words to express. However, here he alternates uncommon, academic words with common words creating another contrast.

This verse is much more entertaining in Greek because of the metaphor that it ends with that is completely lost in translation. It starts with some very common words, but ends with uncommon and exaggerated words. This use of uncommon words is common for Christ's use of humor where we have to think about why he chose that word instead of others he uses more commonly. .

"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" in the Gospel, but a word normally translated as "that."

The word translated as "ye are like" is from a verb that means "to be like" and "to be much like." This is NOT the verb that Christ commonly uses all the "the kingdom of heaven is like" verse. This word is a more academic word and indicates more of a likeness that the metaphorical similarity of the more common word.

The word translated as "sepulchres" means "funeral rights," and "tomb." It is uncommon but not a fancy word like sepulchers, but a common one, more like tomb.

The Greek word translated as "whitened" has nothing to do with the color white. It means "plaster, "paint," and "disguise." It is in the form of a adjected, so plastered, painted, or disguised. It is chosen for its double meaning as disguise.

Christ returns to the form of the words meaning "outwardly" and "inwardly" used in Mat 23:25 but changed in Mat 23:26. However, here, neither are used as nouns. Both are simply adverbs.

The word translated as "indeed" is generally used to express certainty so "certainly,"and "truly."

The Greek word translated as "appear" means "to shine." It is a common word for Christ to use, often to describe how actors what to shine before the public.

The word translated as "beautiful" means "seasonable", "harvest-time," in reference to old people, "ripe or ready for death," in reference to age, "in the prime of life", "youthful," generally of things, "beautiful", "graceful," and as a metaphor "due", "proper," We would say "fresh" for a lot of these meanings, but it doesn't work for others.

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. Like "and," it makes a good pausing point so that an important or humorous word can follow.

The word meaning "within" appears before the "but" above.

The Greek word translated as "Are...full" means "to be full" and, of animals, "to be laden." ​It is usually applied to ships and boats. This is not the word Christ uses frequently in the Gospels to mean described "being full." It too is first used in Mat 23:26.

The word translated as "bones" primarily means "bones." It is a common word, but uncommon for Christ.

The word translated as "of dead" means "corpse", "a dying man," and "inanimate, non-organic matter." Christ uses it in all three senses, referring to the actual dead, the spiritually dead, and inanimate matter.

The word translated as "all" is from the Greek adjective meaning "all", "the whole", "every," and similar ideas. When it is used as a noun, we would say "everthing." As an adverb, it means "in every way", "on every side," and "altogether."

"Uncleanness" is a word that describes the "foulness,"of a wound, generally meaning "filth," and, in moral sense, "depravity." It also refers to "ceremonial impurity." This word connects with the "rotten meat" word in Mat 23:25.


The word translated as "whitened" actually means "plastered" or "painted" but it has the double meaning of "disguised"

The word translated as "beautiful" primarily has the sense of "fresh," but a lot of double meanings as well, including "ripe for death" when applied to old people. 

The word translated as "dead" means "corpses," "the dying" and "inanimate objects." 

The word translated as "uncleanness" means the "foulness" of a wound and ceremonial impurity. 

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

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

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, (noun pl masc nom/voc) 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."

παρομοιάζετε [uncommon] (verb 2nd pl pres ind act) "Ye are like" is from paromoiazo, which means "to be like" and "to be much like." This word is most often used is works about writing and elecution.

τάφοις [uncommon](noun pl masc dat) "Sepulchres" is from taphos, which means "funeral rights", "funeral feast", "grave," and "tomb."

κεκονιαμένοις, [uncommon](part pl perf mp masc dat) "Whitented" is from koniao, which means "plaster with lime or stucco", "daub over," "paint," and "disguise."

οἵτινες (pron pl masc nom) "Which" is from hostis, which means "that", "anyone who", "anything which", "whosoever," "whichsoever" and "anybody whatsoever."

ἔξωθεν "Outward"is from exothen, which "from without" and "outward."

μὲν "Indeed" is from men, which is generally used to express certainty and means "indeed", "certainly", "surely," and "truly."

φαίνονται (verb 3rd pl pres ind mp) "Appear" is from phaino , which means "to shine", "to give light," and "to appear." In its transitive form, not used here, it means "bring to light."

ὡραῖοι [uncommon] (adj pl masc nom) "Beautiful" is from horaios, which means "produced at the right season", "seasonable", "timely," "yearling," of fish "salted or pickled in the season", "harvest-time," of persons, "seasonable or ripe for a thing," in reference to old people, "ripe or ready for death," in reference to age, "in the prime of life", "youthful," generally of things, "beautiful", "graceful," and as a metaphor "due", "proper,"(From hora , which means "season", "day", "an hour," and "a specific time.")

ἔσωθεν "Within" is from esothen, which means "from within" and "inward."

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").

γέμουσιν [uncommon](verb 3rd pl pres ind act)"Are...full" is from gemo, which means "to be full" (especially referring to a ship), but generally as well), "to be full of" (w/gen), "to be filled with" (w/dat) and, of animals, "to be laden." ​

ὀστέων [uncommon] (noun pl neut gen) "Bones" are from osteon, which means "bone", "stone" of a fruit," and metaphorically, "stones."

νεκρῶν (noun pl masc gen) "Of dead" is from nekros, which specifically means "a corpse" as well as a "dying person", "the dead as dwellers in the nether world", "the inanimate," and "the inorganic."

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."

πάσης (adj sg fem gen) "Of all" is from pas, which means "all", "the whole", "every", "anyone", "all kinds," and "anything." In the adverbial form, it means "every way", "on every side", "in every way," and "altogether."

ἀκαθαρσίας: [uncommon](noun sg fem acc/gen ) "Uncleanness" is from akatharsia, which means "uncleanness", "foulness," referring specifically to a wound or sore, generally, "dirt", "filth," in moral sense, "depravity", "ceremonial impurity." and literally "not cleaned.

The Spoken Version: 

"Boo-hoo to you," he said. "Scholars and elites," he announced as if praising them, and then added dismissively. "Actors!"

The crowd hooted and clapped.

"You are so similar to tombs," he said.

A few laughed, but most waited to here how.

"Plastered all over," he said, making the motions of plastering a wall. "So that outwardly..."

He stepped back as it admiring the plastering job.

"Indeed," he exclaimed, gesturing toward the imaginary tomb wall, which just happened to be in the same direction as his opponents. "They shine so fresh and proper!"

The crowd laughed.

"Inwardly, however," he continued, pretending to roll back a tomb door.

He staggered back slightly, holding his nose as he pretended the smell was hitting him.

The crowd laughed louder.

"They a loaded full of bones of corpses," he said, continuing to hold his nose, and gesturing again toward the imaginary tomb and his accusers. "And everything rotten."

The crowd hooted in agreement.