So when Jesus rakes the Pharisees over the coals with, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it,” this gets the lawyer’s attention, and he pipes up: “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also” (I’ve always wondered, what was it? “love the greetings” or “walk over them”, that got his attention?). This self-serving, arrogant sycophant just couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Jesus tears into him without hesitating, and here is where we begin to see the worst sin in the Bible. So consumed with self, pride of place, and public visibility were these lawyers, so determined to be deferred to, if not liked, that they could not even see they were sinking in the deepest water of all.

The Threefold Sin of the Lawyers

The sin of the lawyers has three parts. First, they buried the prophets. They weren’t actually guilty of murdering the prophets of old, as their forebears had been. But Jesus insisted they had done as much (Luke 11:47-51). Of course, these lawyers didn’t kill the prophets, but they neglected them and paid no attention to their teaching. The lawyers’ job was to interpret the law according to the most reliable traditions, and these are to be found in the books of the Old Testament that follow the Law of God.

The Law comprises the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. This contains the story of Israel’s origins, God’s covenant, His deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and (above all) the giving of the Law of God to His people. Everything in the Old Testament that follows the Torah is referred to as “the Prophets.”

The lawyers were supposed to be students of all the Old Testament, and to expound the Law especially in the light of everything taught throughout the rest of the Scriptures. You can hear the Apostle Paul carefully setting himself apart from the practice of the lawyers of his day when he said to the elders at Ephesus, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This the lawyers of Jesus’ day decidedly did not do.

This introduces the second part of their sin. They substituted tradition for Scripture. The lawyers went from the Law of Moses to the traditions accumulated over many years—and now preferred by the Pharisees—and simply validated whatever their bosses and colleagues decided needed to be the case. In the process, they introduced into Jewish civil code hundreds of protocols and practices that have nothing to do with anything other than being a way for the religious leaders to keep the people under their thumbs. Jesus said to the lawyer, “For you load people with burdens hard to bear.” If they weren’t going to teach the Law according to the interpretation of the Prophets, they would have to put something in its place. The traditions of men worked fine—at least, to keep them and their Pharisee pals in a place of preeminence in Jewish society.

In doing these two things—neglecting the Word of God and substituting the teachings of men—the lawyers did the very opposite of what their class had come into being to d they robbed people of the key of knowledge.

Just what was that “key of knowledge”?

The Key of Knowledge

The lawyer must have wrinkled his brow, looked at his colleagues, and begun rifling through his concordance. “Key of knowledge?” What’s He talking about, “key of knowledge”?

When the lawyers stopped teaching the Prophets—the histories from Samuel to Chronicles, the wisdom and poetic literature, and the works of the various writing prophets—they not only ignored the clearest teaching concerning the importance and right use of the Law, they also missed the development of Old Testament teaching about the Messiah.