Summary: A bible study on Matthew 16:5-12.


by Norman Mc Leod


Our text for today is from the gospel of Matthew 16:5-12. What I would like to do here, is to describe the characters ( Pharisees and Sadducees) that Jesus is referring to when teaching is disciples and the meaning of the word leaven. Just to help us to get the overall picture of what Jesus was saying. Let us read together from the gospel of Matthew chapter 16 verses 5 through 12.


The sect of Pharisees is thought to have originated in the 3rd century B.C., in the days preceding Maccabean wars, when under Greek domination and the Greek effort to Hellenize the Jews, There was a strong tendency among the Jews to accept Greek culture with its pagan religious customs. The rise of the Pharisees was a reaction and protest against the tendency among their fellow countrymen. Their aim was to preserve their national integrity and strict conformity to Mosaic Law.

They later developed into self-righteous and hypocritical formalist. Pharisees were the most numerous and influential of the religious sects of Jesus’ day. They were strict legalist. These fellows did not all die in that generation. Through all the centuries the Church has been cursed with leaders exactly described in the 23rd chapter of Matthew, irreligious professionals, parading themselves in holy garments, pompous fellows, strutting like lords, preaching religion , but having none.


As a sect, thought to have originated about the same time as the Pharisees. Being guided by secular considerations, they were to in favor of adopting Greek customs. They took no part in the Maccabean struggle for their nation’s liberty. They were a priestly clique, and though they were the religious officials of their nation, they were avowedly irreligious.

They were not numerous, but were wealthy and influential. To a great extent they controlled the Sanhedrin even though they were rationalistic and worldly-minded. They did not believe in reward or punishment after death nor angels.


Leaven is used metaphorically in the Bible of an influence that can permeate whatever it touches. Leaven is used as a symbol of either good or bad influence. In ( Matthew16:6, 12) Jesus uses the word “leaven” in a evil sense to illustrate the “fermentation” of moral and political corruption: (doctrine or teachings).


The above information gives us some background on the people Jesus was talking about. Matthew 16: 1-4, Jesus describes the Pharisees and Sadducees as Hypocrites! and a wicked and adulterous generation. In Matthew 16: 7 of our text the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ warning as meaning bread. This is not what Jesus meant. In Matthew 16:6, Jesus said to them “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Jesus rebukes them in Matthew 16:11, “ How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?-but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Finally in Matthew 16:12 they understood that He meant the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Does this warning by Jesus to His disciples apply to us today? Yes. How do we identify these Pharisees and Sadducees of today? Jesus says “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” ( Matthew 7:15-20 ) . How do we prepare ourselves? Paul says “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, ( 2 Timothy 3:10-17 NKJ ). This is especially important for Ministers ( preachers and teachers) then and today! Paul also said “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” ( 2Timothy 2:15 NKJ ). Let us pray, that on that final day when He asks “did you read the book I left for you?” we will be able to say yes.

* Reference work- my notes taken from the course “Sacred History and Geography” taught by Richard Rodgers.

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