Destroyed by Bad Doctrine (Mark 12:38-44)

Destroyed by Bad Theology (Mark 12:38-44)


I.) Bad Theology Hurts People

Let me come right out of the gate here and tell you that this text has absolutely nothing to do with people faithfully and dutifully giving to God. My hope is that just simply reading it in its context would make that glaringly obvious.

Sadly, many have distorted this text through the years to teach God’s people how they ought to give as this woman gave. Some ignorantly lay this impossible burden upon people, while others intentionally do so to experience financial gain. Do not fail to notice that the widow gave “all she owned, all she had to live on.”[1] Are we truly called to replicate this?

The account of the widow and her mite is not a model of sacrificial giving to the glory of God. It is a testimony to the heinousness of the self-righteous system of the Scribes and the Pharisees. We just read about a poor widow being destroyed financially, and prior to her being devoured Jesus Christ condemned the men who upheld the system responsible for her demise. This text is not about giving to God. It is about the destruction of people who are ensnared by bad doctrine with its foundation being steeped in the traditions of men.

There is a common trend among contemporary Christianity that says doctrine is not important. The widow and her mite beg to differ. Bad doctrine destroys the people who adhere to it. It leaves them weary and heavy laden with burdens they are unable to carry. It crushes them spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. Yes, theology matters. People cannot begin to truly understand life until they begin to know the true and living God as He has revealed Himself in His living and active Word.

What destroyed this widow? Bad theology did. She was the victim of a religious system established by a man-centered theology, and the Scribes were the perpetrators who perpetuated it. Let us therefore recall what we have learned of the Scribes, because Jesus is in the temple and He tells His disciples to “Beware of the Scribes.”


II.) Scribal Corruption

Now this certainly would have been shocking to the people because the Scribes were well respected among them. They were known as the zealous defenders of the Law of Moses. They accepted “the Law as the basis for the regulation of life.”[2] They therefore studied it diligently, sought to interpret it, and expounded upon it fervently. They were seen as the the experts of the Law.

Wherever the Law lacked detail they filled up by gradually developing an extensive and complicated system of teaching to safeguard the sanctity of the Law. The product of such a system is what was known as The Tradition of the Elders, which oral teachings were eventually compiled into what is known as the Talmud.

What ended up happening was that the Scribes added so much to the Law that the people lost sight of what the Law really said. Instead of living according to God’s Word, the people lived according the oral traditions of men. Such traditions placed a burden upon the people that was impossible for them to carry. This is best seen in what they did with the Sabbath Day. God said to Israel in Exodus 20:8-11,

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”

The people of Israel were to cease from doing the occupational work they did throughout the week, and enjoy rest. In other words, “Stop working, and be refreshed.” The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.[3] The Scribes mangled this commandment and made it burdensome.

The Talmud contains 24 chapters on how to honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. One chapter provides 39 forbidden acts:

“The principal acts of labor (prohibited on the Sabbath) are forty less one–viz.: Sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding into sheaves, threshing, winnowing, fruit-cleaning, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, wool-shearing, bleaching, combing, dyeing, spinning, warping, making two spindle-trees, weaving two threads, separating two threads (in the warp), tying a knot, untying a knot, sewing on with two stitches, tearing in order to sew together with two stitches, hunting deer, slaughtering the same, skinning them, salting them, preparing the hide, scraping the hair off, cutting it, writing two (single) letters (characters), erasing in order to write two letters, building, demolishing (in order to rebuild), kindling, extinguishing (fire), hammering, transferring from one place into another.”[4]

The Mishnah Torah goes in length to iron out the fine print within these acts; For instance, if a person intentionally draws a line in the sand they are guilty of ploughing. If a person waters a tree on the Sabbath Day they are guilty of sowing. If a person grooms their hair or nails they are guilty of shearing. If a person pierces a blister they are guilty of hammering on the Sabbath Day. [5]

Therefore, the Pharisees had a conniption when Jesus’ disciples were walking through the grainfield on the Sabbath Day, picking the heads of grain and rubbing them in their hands to eat them. Based on rabbinical teaching, the disciples were guilty of reaping, threshing, sifting, and winnowing on the Sabbath. They said to Jesus, “See here, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”[6] They are not asking in regards to what is lawful in the sight of God, but what has been declared lawful according to the Scribes.

The Pharisees were a political party that conformed to Scribal interpretation of the Scripture, whose interpretation ultimately neglected the commandments of God and elevated the traditions of men. In regards to the authority of the oral traditions over the Law of God given through Moses, the Mishnah declares this, “It is more culpable to transgress the words of the Scribes than those of the Torah (The five books of Moses).”[7]


III.) Beware of the Scribes

Many people believe and teach that Jesus did not like the Scribes and the Pharisees because they were too doctrinally minded, and that was due to their preoccupation with God’s Law. It is very important we understand that Jesus’ issue with Scribes and the Pharisees was not that they upheld the Law of God. His issue was that they neglected the Law of God and upheld the traditions of men. Recall Mark 7:1-13:

“The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”

Through their complicated system of teaching, the Scribes defined the Law for the people, and the people held them in high esteem for it not realizing that the Scribes distorted it, and enforced what they themselves did not, and could not, obey. They were hypocrites! Their system held the outward appearance of honoring God, but it was designed to inwardly exult one’s self.

In Mark 2:21-22, Jesus taught that His gospel is irreconcilable with their self-righteous works based system:

21 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. 22 No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

The message of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone destroys their established system of salvation by works through faith in self.

Jesus says to beware of them for they, “like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers…”

Jesus had always been warning the people of their hypocrisy. Consider His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:

1.) When you give, “do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”[8]

2.) When you pray, “you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”[9]

3.) When you fast, “do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”[10]

The Scribes “Like” to do all of these things. It means they intend to be seen for the determined purpose of their own honor and exaltation.[11] Their system does not seek to glorify God, it seeks to glorify self.

1.) They want to be seen and noticed, so they “walk around in long robes.” These were expensive and decorative robes that the Scribes lengthened to demonstrate their supposed devoutness.

2.) Since they would be easily noticed in them, they expected to be honored with “respectful greetings in the market places.” They sought to be called titles such as Rabbi, Father, and Leader. [12] To be called Rabbi meant people were recognizing them as the experts of the Law. To be called Father meant they were seen as the source of spiritual truth and life. To be called Leader meant they were being acknowledged as those who determined another’s direction.

3.) Since they were determined to be honored in this way, they exulted themselves by sitting in the “chief seats in the synagogues,” which would have been an elevated platform in the front. They also sat in the “places of honor at banquets,” which would have been nearest to the person hosting the event.

4.) To demonstrate how intimate they were with God they would “offer long prayers,” but Jesus reveals this was all done “for appearance’s sake.”

In Matthew 23:1-7, Jesus says to the disciples and the crowds:

“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do themThey tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garmentsThey love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.”

When they sat in the seat of Moses they were only allowed to teach the Word of God. They could not expound upon the traditions of the elders. Jesus, therefore, tells the people to do what they teach from the seat of Moses, but do not do what they do. This is because they lived according to a system that neglected Moses, and mangled his words into a man-centered tradition, which crushed the people. They held to a form of godliness, but they denied its power. They honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They had the appearance of life, but they were dead. Jesus says to them in Luke 11:43-46,

43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places.44 Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”45 One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” 46 But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear,while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

He goes on to say in verse 52, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.”


IV.) The Victim of the Scribes

To the people, the Scribes and the Pharisees were the epitome of righteousness. Jesus, however, knows them for who they truly are, self-righteous hypocrites who do all things for appearance sake while they “devour widows’ houses.”

One of the notions under their false system was that money would please God and garner a blessing in favor of the giver. Many essentially believed that money could buy their salvation. This is why the disciples were amazed when Jesus said in Mark 10:23, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.” It was a commonly held belief that the rich would obviously get there because they could afford it, but Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ And they were even more astonished and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’”[13] It is impossible to be save yourself. Money is incapable of buying God’s favor, but that is not what this system taught. The poor and widowed suffered under it in an attempt to gain blessing with money.

These are the supposed experts of the Law. The Law says this:

1.) Exodus 22:22, “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.”

2.) Deuteronomy 10:17-18, “17 For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. 18 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”

3.) Deuteronomy 24:17-22, “17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.”

4.) Deuteronomy 27:19, “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.”

5.) Psalm 68:5, “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.”

6.) Psalm 146:9, “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow.”

7.) Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

8.) Jeremiah 22:3, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow…”

9.) Zechariah 7:9-10, “Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; 10 and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’”

The Scribes and Pharisees neglected all of this and took advantage of the people, especially the widowed. John MacArthur says:

“The Scribes consumed the limited resources of those who had the least. They abused their hospitality, defrauded them of their estates, mismanaged their property, and took their houses as pledges for debts they could never repay. Like they did with everyone caught up in their false religious system, they also demanded that widows give money to purchase God’s blessings.”[14]

Jesus says, “these will receive greater condemnation.” Mark goes on to say,

“And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

Jesus draws His disciples to see the heinousness of the self-righteous system of the Scribes and the Pharisees who do all things for the sake of appearance’s while devouring widows houses. What was supposed to be a repository to help the poor and the widowed, had instead become a wretched receptacle that brought about their demise as they sought to buy the favor of God. The rich put in whatever money they had left over after all of their expenses were paid, but the poor widow proportionately gave more. She “put in all that she owned, all she had to live on.” She bought the lie. She came desperate. She left destitute. She will die, for she now has nothing to live on.

                        Jesus rightly says in Matthew 23:13-28,33:

13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 [Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves…23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness…33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?”

It was their false religious system which drew Jesus to say in Matthew 11:28-30:

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

God’s favor cannot be bought with money or earned through works. It is given to all who turn from their sins, and turn to Christ resting in His Person and work. It is given to those who are confident that God the Son became a Man, and as that Man He lived a perfect and sinless life and earned what we could not; a righteousness according to the Law.

As the Spotless Lamb of God He went to the cross to become our sin to satisfy the just wrath of God towards us. The Father demonstrated His love for us by giving us His Son. The Son proved His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, He willingly died for us. On the cross He purchased salvation for everyone who repents and believes the gospel. God proved this by resurrecting Him the third day. This means that all who turn to Him will not only experience the forgiveness of their sins, but they will be given His righteousness, thus making them acceptable to God. The Father will love them just as much as He love His Son for all eternity. They will be given everlasting life, and rest for their souls.


V.) Discerning  Doctrine

Does doctrine matter? Yes, sound doctrine matters. It is the only thing that provides true rest for the sinner. People cannot begin to truly understand life until they begin to know the true and living God as He has revealed Himself in His living and active Word. People cannot grasp eternal life until they have a correct understanding of Christ.

Scribes and Pharisees are not necessarily an issue for us in America, but the Scripture is clear that we are to be on our guard because savage wolves will come in among the flock of God and not spare the flock. From among professing Christians men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.[15]

2 Peter 2:1-3 says, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

2 Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness-, whose end will be according to their deeds.”

There is much I could say on this, but I just want to end with Paul’s council to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”


[1] Mark 12:44b

[2] Zondervan Pictorial Dictionary, Merrill Tenney; Page 761

[3] Mark 2:28

[4] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/FullTalmud.pdf

[5] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/935208/jewish/Shabbat-Chapter-Eight.htm

[6] Mark 2:24

[7] The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, John MacArthur; Page 218. Cited in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edershiem

[8] Matthew 6:2

[9] Matthew 6:5

[10] Matthew 6:16

[11] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, NT Number: 2309

[12] Matthew 23:7,9,10

[13] Mark 10:25-26

[14] The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, John MacArthur; Page 219

[15] Acts 20:28-29

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