“Woe to you lawyers,” “Serpents,” “Brood of Vipers”—Jesus.

Apr 8, 2022 by David Fowler

“Woe to you lawyers,” “Serpents,” “Brood of Vipers”—Jesus.
The last Sunday service before I headed from Chattanooga to Cincinnati for law school, my pastor presented me with a briefcase and reminded me that Jesus had said, “Woe to you lawyers.” Debate over the Marital Contract Recording Act has helped me understand what Jesus was saying, and its application to some of the surprising opposition to it. 
The passage of Scripture in which Jesus spoke these words about lawyers, also known as scribes in his day, is found in Mathew 23:1-36. A more concise damming judgment of lawyers is found in Luke 11:45-54.

Why Did Jesus Pronounce This Woe on the Lawyers of His Day?

The lawyers came in for harsh judgment because they took the law of God and created a long list of “rules” that ostensibly worked out or were practical applications of God’s fundamental law laid out in the Ten Commandments.
Their condemnation lay in the fact that all their “rules” obscured the true, fundamental, underlying law of God. For example, the lawyers took the command not to bear false witness to mean that swearing an oath “by the temple was nothing,” but swearing “by the gold of the temple” obligated the person. This lawyerly “interpretation” of the law obscured the true law that swearing an oath was swearing an oath and God would hold the person to it (Matthew 23:19).
Because the lawyers’ “laws” obscured the real law in the eyes of the people, putting their focus on externals, Jesus said: “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge [the true law of God]; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered (Luke 11:52).”
Rightly, then, did Jesus condemn lawyers who made up laws that kept people from knowing the God behind the law and to whom the law pointed!

Application to Me, A Lawyer

Only since law school did it come home to me that lawyers and legislators as lawmakers were at one time in our history understood as serving the same function as that of the lawyers Jesus condemned, i.e., taking the fundamental laws God established in relation to human nature in its individual and communal contexts and figuring out how best to apply it to particular situations.


Application to the Marital Contract Recording Act

Liberals, liberal lawyers, and some lawmakers have opposed the Marital Contract Recording Act because it did not include an age restriction on who can file the record providing evidence of a marriage at common law.  While an age limit was not required because marriage by minors is already against the state’s legislatively expressed public policy regarding marriage, an amendment has been provided to make that policy explicit.

However, a minister along with a couple of legislators have complained (and I suspect there are others) because they believe marriage is denigrated in the eyes of people if no license (permit or permission slip, if you prefer) from the government is required for a man and woman to marry. Then a minister wrote saying some of those he “marries” don’t want their marital promise before God to be considered a legally enforceable promise so they can preserve certain financial benefits they have if they can tell the government they are not married.

Preacher No. 1: Does the Act Devalue Marriage?

Contrary to what the first preacher said, marriage has been denigrated in the eyes of the people generally because Christians have allowed it to be reduced to something not real, having no fixed, given meaning existing independent of the civil government. That is precisely the point of the U.S. Supreme Court’s homosexual “marriage” decision, Obergefell v. Hodges.  Oh, they preach that it is, but by their opposition to this bill, they do not want the civil law to reflect that reality. 

Marriage is now, in the eyes of most, just another government-permitted activity, nothing more than a piece of paper by which government approves of one’s relationship, and who cares what government thinks.
Preacher No. 2. MCRA Hurts Christians Financially
As to the second preacher, can there be any greater denigration of marriage in the eyes of God? It boils down to this: My people want God’s approval so they are not “fornicating,” but they want their mammon too. 
Jesus, not me, said you “cannot serve God and mammon for you will either love the one or hate the other” (Matthew 6:24). These couples, with their preacher’s complicity, want their cake of mammon without the church’s external and facial approval of their marital relationship preventing them from eating it too. 

The preacher wants to separate religion from law, the very root of our modern problem of ethics and law!
Moreover, the preacher has not helped the couple see the glory of God in marriage as a part of the Kingdom of God, and the precious privilege of demonstrating and proclaiming it openly to the world as a pearl of such great price that they would be willing to sell all they have—including government benefits or trust money—to have it (Matthew 13:46).
Please don’t accuse me of not being sensible or practical. Jesus telling people to sell all they had and give it to the poor was not very practical, but His question and their refusal sure exposed their heart and their knowledge of God as a Heavenly Father who would care for them.
Jesus never gave hope of eternal life or salvation to those who loved their stuff over His glory. (Matthew 19:21-22). Never. 


Woe to those preachers and modern scribes who focus so much on the externals of the marital relationship—Did you or did you not get a piece of paper issued by a government official? —that they obscure in the eyes of the people the truth about marriage and, ultimately, the truth about the God who ordained it.
I suspect that Jesus would say “woe” to those who make up laws and support man-made laws that “hinder” people from coming to the knowledge that the marital relationship between a man and woman is not a creation of civil government and has a real meaning not given to it by statutes. 
Our man-made law on marriage has hindered people from asking where such a thing as marriage between a man and woman comes from and, in the pursuit of the answer, from finding the only answer that makes sense—a Creator God. Woe.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

Subscribe to Email Updates


Donate to FACT

Make a Donation