Snakes and serpents in the Scriptures

3. False Religious Leaders Called 'Vipers' – Gospel of Matthew

Both Jesus and John the Baptist had harsh words for the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Jewish religious leaders who continually tried to find ways to stumble Jesus in the Law of Moses in order to have Him arrested. 

Jesus called them a “brood of vipers”: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:32-34 ESV)

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When he began to baptize in the Jordan River, John the Baptist used the exact same language: "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” (Matthew 3:7 ESV)

So what did they mean by this? 

While the Bible associates serpents (and vipers) with sin — as we saw in Genesis 3 — there’s another lesser-known explanation behind the epithet: according to Got Questions, a Christian apologetic website, which explains that in the first century and still today, farmers will burn their fields to prepare for the next harvest.

During the burnoff, snakes can often be seen slithering off as the flames grow closer, so Jesus’ words likely would’ve evoked a similar image to the Pharisees.

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