When you read in the depths of the Gospels of Jesus and the apostles being criticized for healing someone on the Sabbath, or for eating grains they pick in the field while wandering on the Sabbath, or for not washing hands before a meal, and so on, doesn't it all remind you of something?
Isn't this an apt description of life today in what Margaret Thatcher called the “nanny state”? The endless regulation of our daily lifes, laws that lose sight of the spirit of the thing, laws that require all parents to leave the maternity hospital with a car seat, whether or not they have a car, or ban church bake sales because the pies were made in unsupervised conditions...?
Hardly a coincidence. The word the King James translates “scribes” would be more correctly rendered into modern English as “bureaucrats.” That is exactly what scribes were in their day. The gospels should be read with this in mind; and, with this in mind, they can be clearly understood as a condemnation of intrusive government. The very first words preached in the New Testament are John the Baptist's “Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming?”--spoken to the Sadducees and Pharisees.
“Pharisees” is a bit harder to place in modern context. Strictly speaking, they were a religious sect, and represent a certain tendency within religious leadership. However, their chief characteristic, as the Gospel sees it, is their insistence on adherence to a set of rules and regulations more strict than the Mosaic code--”walls around Torah.” We might render them, generically, “regulators.” But they were also a political grouping: the Pharisees, according to Josephus, tended to be the “party of the poor,” while the Sadducees with whom they were locked in an eternal political struggle tended to serve those with aristocratic, priestly, lineage. And so, they could be referred to also as “the left,” in first-century Judean terms.
Let's try the experiment of upgrading the references to modern terminology, and see how that sounds: Matthew 23 (ASV):
13 But woe unto you, bureaucrats, regulators, and leftists, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.
14 Woe unto you, bureaucrats, regulators, leftists, hypocrites! for you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretence you make long prayers: therefore you shall receive greater condemnation.
15 Woe unto you, bureaucrats, regulators, leftists, hypocrites! You who travel over sea and land to make a single person “educated,” and when you have him you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.
23 Woe unto you, bureaucrats, regulators, leftists, hypocrites! You mind your taxes and regulations carefully, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and good faith: but these you should have done, without neglecting the other.
24 You blind guides, who strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel!
29 Woe unto you, bureaucrats, regulators, leftists, hypocrites! For you build the sepulchres of the prophets, and decorate the tombs of holy men, and say, If we had been there in the days of our fathers, we should not have joined in shedding the blood of the Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, or the evils of Jim Crow laws. 31 Here you witness to yourselves, that you are sons of them that committed the holocaust, and who segregated. 32 You finish off the work that your predecessors began. 33 Serpents! Brood of vipers! How shall ye escape being condemned to hell?
His words against the scribes and Pharisees are far and away the sternest words Jesus speaks about anyone. Though he does not like the Sadducees either, the Pharisees and scribes are clearly the great villains of slavation history. He more or less explicitly condemns them to hell in advance, without any hint of a chance for redemption.
Sounds right to me. Notice that Hitler's strongest support came from the universities and the ranks of the bureaucracy.
The great problem with bureaucrats, regulators, and leftists, is that they invert all values: by presenting a false appearance of righteousness and compassion, they lead people astray not just physically or politically, but morally. They destroy not just the body, but the soul. The Sadducees or the Roman occupiers, being openly in favour of a powerful elite, are less deceitful, and so less to be condemned.