From Whitewashed to Washed White EGP Blog post from March 9, 2014

In a series of public rebukes directly against the Pharisees, Jesus said the following:

Matthew 23:27–28 ()

[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.

As many know from this text and others, the Pharisees were very focused on appearing righteous before others (, Matthew 23) and often banked their salvation on being a descendant of Moses and Abraham. (, ) In this passage, Jesus said that their hypocrisy made them like “whitewashed tombs” where they appeared beautiful but were full of all sorts of uncleanness.

Another interesting thing about this comparison is that there was a Jewish tradition of whitewashing the tombs, but it wasn’t merely to make them look nicer. It actually served as a warning to the Jews that if they touched the tombs or anything in them that it would make them unclean (cf. Thayer’s Greek Definitions []). So, while the Pharisees were hiding their unrighteousness behind a facade of self-righteousness in order to appear clean, Jesus was also saying that facade should serve as a warning to others of their uncleanness! However, we must always be careful not to “shovel” these checks to others. Instead, we must examine ourselves to see if we are hiding our uncleanness with a facade.

The root of the Pharisees’ problem (and all of us, really) was primarily with the uncleanness inside, which is something that only God can purify. Fortunately, we are never too far gone for Him to cleanse us…turning us from whitewashed to washed white!

Isaiah 1:18 ()

“Come now, let us argue this out,” says the LORD. “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool.

Key verses