Matthew 23:29 Woe to you...because you build the tombs of the prophets...

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

Sadly you scribes and Pharisees [are] actors. Because you are building estates of the prophet's tombs and arrange the records of the virtuous.

KJV : 

Mat 23:29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This verse is pretty different in meaning from the KJV and it is fun because Christ uses several common idas in uncommon forms. Many of these words (after the repeated humorous begininng "Woe to you...") have both noun and verb forms, but most of the froms here are the opposite of what Chrise usually uses. The final word is in a form that could work either as a noun or a verb.

"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 religious 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."

"Ye build" is from a word that specifically means "build a house," generally, "build", "fashion," "found upon," and, metaphorically, "build up," and "edify." Christ usually uses it in its noun form (the ones building), but here it is an active verb. He use a "house" is to refer to the building itself, all the people that dwell in it, including slaves and servants, all property owned by that family, and all the descendants of the continued line. We might say "estate" in English to capture this idea.

"Tombs" is from the word that the KJV translated in Mat 23:27 as "sepluchers." It means both the funeral service and the burial site. The idea here is that a tomb is built up as a "house" not just to build tombs.

The Greek word translated as "prophets" means "one who speaks for God", "interpreter" and was the highest level of priesthood in Egypt. Christ uses it to refer not only to divine spokepeople, but their books in the OT. It is from the verb that means "to shine before." This word is a form of the verb meaning "to shine" that has been used in the previous two verses, Mat 23:27 and Mat 23:28 , and translated as "appear."

The Greek word translated as "garnish" means "to order", "to arrange", "to rule", "to adorn," and "to equip." It is the verb form of the noun that means "the world order," usually translated as "the world" in the NT. Christ frequently uses the noun form, but seldom uses the verb.

The Greek word translated as "sepulchres" is not the word translated as "sepulchers" earlier, but a word that means "memorial", "remembrance," and "record." Christ does not use the noun frequently, but does use the verb form of this word, which means "to remember."

The final word here can either be the noun means "the virtuous" or a form of the verb means "to do right." When introduced by an article, as it here, the verb becomes the concept of doing right, "these virtues." This idea also refers back to the previous verse where Christ said his accusers "appear" righteous.


The word "prophets" is a form of the word meaning "to shine" which was the focus of last two verses.

The word translated as "the righteous" also means "these virtues."

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Οὐαὶ (exclam) "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."

οἰκοδομεῖτε (verb 2nd pl pres ind act) "Ye build" is from oikodomeo,which means to "build a house," generally, "build", "fashion," "found upon," and, metaphorically, "build up," and "edify."

τοὺς τάφους [uncommon](noun pl masc acc) "Tombs" is from taphos, which means "funeral rights", "funeral feast", "grave," and "tomb."

τῶν προφητῶν (noun pl masc gen or verb 3rd pl pres imperat act) "The prophets" is from prophetes, which means "one who speaks for a god and interprets his will", "interpreter", "keepers of the oracle", "the highest level of priesthood in Egypt", "interpreter," and "herald." It is a verb that means "to shine forth" It is a form of the verb, prophao. which means "to shine forth," or "to shine before."

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."

κοσμεῖτε (verb 2nd pl pres ind act) "Garnish" is from kosmeô, which means "to order", "to arrange", "to rule", "to adorn" (especially women), and "to equip." It especially means controlling and arranging an army. It is the verb form of kosmos, the world order. "Kosmos" is usually translated as "the world," but Christ uses to refer to the organization of the rulers of this world.

τὰ μνημεῖα [uncommon] (noun pl neut acc) "Sepulchres" is from mnêmeion, which means "memorial", "remembrance," and "record."

τῶν δικαίων, (adj pl masc gen or verb pres inf act) "The righteous" is from dikaios which means "observant of rules", "observant of customs", "well-ordered", "civilized," and "observant of duty." Later it means "well-balanced", "impartial," and "just." As a verb, it means to "set right", "hold or deem right", "claim or demand as a right", "pronounce judgement", "do a man right or justice", "chastise", "punish, and in passive, "have right done one." -- The term translated as "righteous" means "those who observe the laws", "one who does what is right," and "proper and fitting."

The Spoken Version: 

"Boo-hoo to you," he said, again addressing his accursers. "Scholars and elites, actors!"

The crowd cheered the repeated refrain.

"Because you are building estates," he said, raising his hands indicating a grand estate. Then lowered his hands indicating the ground, and continued more seriously. "From the tombs of the prophets."

The crowd booed.

"And," he continued, pausing briefly for silence.

"Organzing the records," he said, doing a little routine of shuffling papers. Then he indicated the crowd and finished. "Of the virtuous."

The crowd cheered!