Who Was Jesus Calling a ‘Brood of Vipers’?

Jesus called these Pharisees a "brood of vipers" because of the wickedness in their hearts because the heart is what matters to Jesus. Every word and action will overflow from there. A pure heart in Christ will make pure actions.

Brood of snakes

"Brood of vipers!" It's a famous, rather insulting, line used by both John the Baptist and Jesus in the gospels and repeated throughout church history in countless sermons. But what exactly does it mean? Who was Jesus speaking to, and why would he call them that? Can we also become a "brood of vipers" today, and if so, how do we know?

In this article, we will answer these questions and look at the deeper meaning behind this famous insult of the gospels.

Who Was Jesus Talking To?

In Matthew 12:34, Jesus proclaims, "Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks."

Wow, that was intense. I hope Jesus never says this to me! Let's look at the context a few verses before to understand better what is going on.

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons" (Matthew 12:22-24).

Here is the scene. A crowd surrounds Jesus, and a demon-possessed man who is blind and mute is brought publicly before Jesus. Jesus instantly heals him, and amazement surges through the crowd. Then, people begin to ask one another if Jesus is the "Son of David," a name for the prophesied Messiah of Israel.

The Pharisees, who also saw the miracle before their eyes, respond differently. They do not like Jesus, and they hate the very thought that he could be the Messiah. But they are in a bit of a pickle. How could they deny the miracle when they saw it right in front of them?

They try to disqualify him by explaining how he could do such miraculous things to the crowd. They proclaim that he has the power of Satan inside of him, and that is how he can control demons.

After the Pharisees speak out against him, Jesus responds in the next verse. It says, "But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand’" (v. 25).

Who exactly was the "they" in this verse? It was the Pharisees. Jesus continues to talk directly to the Pharisees in the crowd through verse 37.

It is within this response that Jesus famously says in verse 34, "Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks."

There you have it. Jesus was directly calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers. He was not speaking to the crowd, believers, or unbelievers, but rather He was responding to the claims of the Pharisees.

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”(Matthew 12:32-24).

What Is a Brood of Vipers?

The word "brood" in the original language of the Bible meant "the offspring, born or begotten of." A more modern way of translating this verse would be "sons, or children of snakes!"

In the Jewish culture, the snake was a symbol of the Devil, death, and sin. Remember in the Garden of Eden, what the Devil disguised himself as? A serpent. When Jesus claims that these Pharisees have been born of serpents, he proclaims that these Pharisees are children of the Devil.

They disguise themselves as wise but are like their namesake, corrupt and wicked inside. They deceive the people of God into sin, just like the serpent in the garden deceived Adam and Eve.

These Pharisees, like the Devil, were selfish, hate-filled, and had murder in their hearts towards Jesus. Right after Jesus calls them a "brood of vipers," he says, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). He claims that what comes out of your mouth indicates what is brewing inside of your heart.

The fact that the Pharisees witnessed a miracle, and the first thing out of their mouths were accusations, criticism, and talk about the Devil, exposed what was truly inside of their hearts.

Their hearts were full of hate, accusation, criticism, and the Devil. Though they looked religious on the outside, internally, they carried attributes of Satan himself.

What Does That Mean for Us Today?

This intense response of Jesus was for a specific group of people within a particular conversation, and we must be careful not to place his same conclusions about the Pharisees on to other people in our lives.

Can a "brood of vipers" exist today. Absolutely. Anyone who acts like a religious Christian on the outside but internally has hatred, anger, murder, and deceit in their heart would fit this description.

I am sure we have all met people like that. You can usually tell based on what comes out of their mouths. Is their speech filled with hatred towards someone, or overly accusatory or critical? That shows what is in their hearts.

But does that mean we go up to them and call them a child of Satan? No way! Remember Jesus was the only one in the crowd who perfectly "knew their thoughts," so only he could judge and call them that.

We also, not being perfect, have all had anger and hatred in our hearts before. So, we have all been a "brood of vipers" at one point in our lives. But the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus can transform us from being children of snakes into children of God.

So, unless you are perfect like Jesus, let's not go around calling people sons of Satan; instead, let's lead them to Christ and, through his kindness, show them how to become children of God. Could you be right in calling someone a son of Satan? Maybe.

But you could also be wrong, and you'll have to explain to Jesus one day why you called his child a child of Satan. I don't know about you, but I've decided to lead them to Jesus and leave righteous anger to him.

Jesus called these Pharisees a "brood of vipers" because of the wickedness in their hearts because the heart is what matters to Jesus. Every word and action will overflow from there. A pure heart will make pure actions.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:35-37).

So, as you watch your words and actions, let it expose what is going on inside your heart, then take that to Jesus for healing.

For further reading:

Who Were the Pharisees in the Bible?

Is it Okay for Believers to Feel 'Righteous' Anger?

Is it Biblical to Argue Over Scripture?

What Does a Modern-Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Is the Difference Between Obedience and Legalism?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/EduardHarkonen


C.com writerTaylor Jensen is a missionary, pastor, and world traveler. His passion is to help equip believers with practical ways to ignite their faith and bring Jesus into the world around them. That is the goal of his personal blog Fireplace Faith. Want to Learn How to Hear God's Voice? Subscribe here to get his Free Ebook “8 Biblical Ways to Hear God's Voice.”  Reach out to him any time through his blog or through his social media accounts @taylorcjensen.