Adam Clarke Commentary
Jesus leaves Galilee, and comes into the coasts of Judea, and is followed by great multitudes, whom he heals, Matthew 19:1, Matthew 19:2. The question of the Pharisees concerning divorce answered, and the doctrine of marriage explained, Matthew 19:3-9. The inquiry of the disciples on this subject, Matthew 19:10. Our Lord's answer, explaining the case of eunuchs, Matthew 19:11, Matthew 19:12. Little children brought to Christ for his blessing, Matthew 19:13-15. The case of the young man who wished to obtain eternal life, Matthew 19:16-22. Our Lords reflections on this case, in which he shows the difficulty of a rich man's salvation, Matthew 19:23-26. What they shall possess who have left all for Christ's sake and the Gospel. Matthew 19:27-29; How many of the first shall be last, and the last first, Matthew 19:30.
Beyond Jordan - Or, by the side of Jordan. Matthew begins here to give an account of Christ's journey (the only one he mentions) to Jerusalem, a little before the passover, at which he was crucified. See Mark 10:1; Luke 9:51.
Jesus came from Galilee (which lay to the north of Judea) into the coasts of Judea; and from thence, in his way to Jerusalem, he went through Jericho, ( Matthew 20:17, Matthew 20:29;), which lay at the distance of sixty furlongs, or seven miles and a half from Jordan, to the western side of it. See Joseph. War, book iv. chap. 8. sect. 3. It seems, therefore, most probable, that the course of Christ's journey led him by the side of the river Jordan, not beyond it. That the Greek word περαν, especially with a genitive case as here, has sometimes this signification, see on John 6:22; (note); see also Bp. Pearce.
Great multitudes followed him - Some to be instructed - some to be healed - some through curiosity - and some to ensnare him.
Tempting him - Trying what answer he would give to a question, which, however decided by him, would expose him to censure.
Is it lawful - for every cause? - Instead of αιτιαν, fault, cause, reason, three MSS. and the Coptic version read αμαρτιαν, sin or transgression: this was probably the original reading - the first syllable being lost, αρτιαν alone would remain, which a subsequent transcriber would suppose to be a mistake for αιτιαν, and so wrote it; hence this various reading. What made our Lord's situation at present so critical in respect to this question was: At this time there were two famous divinity and philosophical schools among the Jews, that of Shammai, and that of Hillel. On the question of divorce, the school of Shammai maintained, that a man could not legally put away his wife, except for whoredom. The school of Hillel taught that a man might put away his wife for a multitude of other causes, and when she did not find grace in his sight; i.e. when he saw any other woman that pleased him better. See the case of Josephus, mentioned in the note on Matthew 5:31; (note), and Calmet's Comment, vol. i. part ii. p. 379. By answering the question, not from Shammai or Hillel, but from Moses, our blessed Lord defeated their malice, and confounded their devices.
He which made them at the beginning - When Adam and Eve were the first of human kind.
Made them male and female - Merely through the design of matrimonial union, that the earth might be thus peopled. To answer a case of conscience, a man should act as Christ does here; pay no regard to that which the corruption of manners has introduced into Divine ordinances, but go back to the original will, purpose, and institution of God. Christ will never accommodate his morality to the times, nor to the inclinations of men. What was done at the beginning is what God judged most worthy of his glory, most profitable for man, and most suitable to nature.
For this cause - Being created for this very purpose; that they might glorify their Maker in a matrimonial connection. A man shall leave (καταλειψαι, wholly give up) both father and mother - the matrimonial union being more intimate and binding than even paternal or filial affection; - and shall be closely united, προσκολληθησεται, shall be firmly cemented to his wife. A beautiful metaphor, which most forcibly intimates that nothing but death can separate them: as a well-glued board will break sooner in the whole wood, than in the glued joint. So also the Hebrew word דבק debak implies.
And they twain shall be one flesh? - Not only meaning, that they should be considered as one body, but also as two souls in one body, with a complete union of interests, and an indissoluble partnership of life and fortune, comfort and support, desires and inclinations, joys and sorrows. Farther, it appears to me, that the words in Genesis 2:24, אחד לבסר lebasar achad, for one flesh, which our Lord literally translates, mean also, that children, compounded as it were of both, should be the product of the matrimonial connection. Thus, they two (man and woman) shall be for the producing of one flesh, the very same kind of human creature with themselves. See the note on Genesis 2:24.
What therefore God hath joined together - Συνεζευξεν, yoked together, as oxen in the plough, where each must pull equally, in order to bring it on. Among the ancients, when persons were newly married, they put a yoke upon their necks, or chains upon their arms, to show that they were to be one, closely united, and pulling equally together in all the concerns of life. See Kypke in loco.
The finest allegorical representation of the marriage union I have met with, is that antique gem representing the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, in the collection of the duke of Marlborough: it may be seen also among Baron Stoch's gems, and casts or copies of it in various other collections.
Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement? - It is not an unusual case for the impure and unholy to seek for a justification of their conduct from the law of God itself, and to wrest Scripture to their own destruction. I knew a gentleman, so called, who professed deep reverence for the sacred writings, and, strange as it may appear, was outwardly irreproachable in every respect but one; that was, he kept more women than his wife. This man frequently read the Bible, and was particularly conversant with those places that spoke of or seemed to legalize the polygamy of the patriarchs!
A writing of divorcement - See the form of it in the note on Matthew 5:31; (note).
Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts - It is dangerous to tolerate the least evil, though prudence itself may require it: because toleration, in this case, raises itself insensibly into permission, and permission soon sets up for command. Moses perceived that if divorce were not permitted, in many cases, the women would be exposed to great hardships through the cruelty of their husbands: for so the word σκληροκαρδια, is understood in this place by some learned men.
From the beginning it was not so - The Jews named the books of the law from the first word in each. Genesis they always term Bereshith, בראשית , which is the first word in it, and signifies, In the beginning. It is probable that our Lord speaks in this way here, In Bereshith it was not so, intimating that the account given in Genesis is widely different. There was no divorce between Eve and Adam; nor did he or his family practice polygamy. But our Lord, by the beginning, may mean the original intention or design.
Except it be for fornication - See on Matthew 5:32; (note). The decision of our Lord must be very unpleasant to these men: the reason why they wished to put away their wives was, that they might take others whom they liked better; but our Lord here declares that they could not be remarried while the divorced person was alive, and that those who did marry, during the life of the divorced, were adulterers; and heavy judgments were, denounced, in their law, against such: and as the question was not settled by the schools of Shammai and Hillel, so as to ground national practice on it therefore they were obliged to abide by the positive declaration of the law, as it was popularly understood, till these eminent schools had proved the word had another meaning. The grand subject of dispute between the two schools, mentioned above, was the word in Deuteronomy 24:1, When a man hath taken a wife - and she find no grace in his sight, because of some Uncleanness, ערות eruath : - this the school of Shammai held to mean whoredom or adultery; but the school of Hillel maintained that it signified any corporeal defect, which rendered the person deformed, or any bad temper which made the husband's life uncomfortable. Any of the latter a good man might bear with; but it appears that Moses permitted the offended husband to put away the wife on these accounts, merely to save her from cruel usage.
In this discourse, our Lord shows that marriage, (except in one case), is indissoluble, and should be so: -
3dly, Because the married couple become one and the same person, Matthew 19:6.
4thly, By the example of the first pair, Matthew 19:8; and
5thly, Because of the evil consequent on separation, Matthew 19:9. The importance of this subject will, I hope, vindicate or excuse, the length of these notes.
If the case of the man - Του ανθρωπου, of a husband, so I think the word should be translated here. The Codex Bezae, Armenian, and most of the Itala, have του ανδρος, which, perhaps, more properly signifies a husband, though both words are used in this sense.
Our word husband comes from the Anglo-Saxon, hus and band : the bond of the house, anciently spelt housebond, - so in my old MS. Bible. It is a lamentable case when the husband, instead of being the bond and union of the family, scatters and ruins it by dissipation, riot, and excess.
It is not good to marry - That is, if a man have not the liberty to put away his wife when she is displeasing to him. God had said, Genesis 2:18, It is not good for man to be alone, i.e. unmarried. The disciples seem to say, that if the husband have not the power to divorce his wife when she is displeasing to him, it is not good for him to marry. Here was a flat contradiction to the decision of the Creator. There are difficulties and trials in all states; but let marriage and celibacy be weighed fairly, and I am persuaded the former will be found to have fewer than the latter. However, before we enter into an engagement which nothing but death can dissolve, we had need to act cautiously, carefully consulting the will and word of God. Where an unbridled passion, or a base love of money, lead the way, marriage is sure to be miserable.
All - cannot receive this saying - A very wise answer, and well suited to the present circumstances of the disciples. Neither of the states is condemned. If thou marry, thou dost well - this is according to the order, will, and commandment of God. But if thou do not marry, (because of the present necessity, persecution, worldly embarrassments, or bodily infirmity), thou dost better. See 1 Corinthians 7:25.
Eunuchs - Ευνουχος, from ευνην εχειν, to have the care of the bed or bedchamber; this being the principal employment of eunuchs in the eastern countries, particularly in the apartments of queens and princesses. These are they whom our Lord says are made eunuchs by men, merely for the above purpose.
So born from their mother's womb - Such as are naturally incapable of marriage, and consequently should not contract any.
For the kingdom of heaven's sake - I believe our Lord here alludes to the case of the Essenes, one of the most holy and pure sects among the Jews. These abstained from all commerce with women, hoping thereby to acquire a greater degree of purity, and be better fitted for the kingdom of God: children they had none of their own, but constantly adopted those of poor people, and brought them up in their own way. Philo, Josephus, and Pliny have largely described this very singular sect; and Dean Prideaux, with his usual fidelity and perspicuity, has given the substance of what each has said. Connex. vol. iii. p. 483, etc.; edit. 1725. The account is very interesting, and well worthy the attention of every Christian. Among the rabbins we find these different kinds of eunuchs, not only mentioned, but circumstantially described, חמה סריס saris chama, eunuchs of the sun, i.e. eunuchs by the hand of God; men born impotent. אדם סריס saris Adam, eunuchs of men, those who were castrated. And they add a third sort; those who make themselves eunuchs, abstain from marriage, etc., that they may give themselves Up to the study of the Divine law. See many examples in Schoettgen.
He that is able to receive - Χωρειν χωρειτω . These words are variously translated: he who can take; let him take it; comprehend, let him comprehend it: admit, let him admit it. The meaning seems to be, Let the man who feels himself capable of embracing this way of life, embrace it; but none can do it but he to whom it is given, who has it as a gift from his mother's womb.
The great Origen, understanding the latter clause of this verse (which I have applied to the Essenes) literally - O human weakness! - went, and literally fulfilled it on himself!
Then were there brought unto him little children - These are termed by Luke, Luke 18:15, τα βρεφη, infants, very young children; and it was on this account, probably, that the disciples rebuked the parents, thinking them too young to receive good. See on Mark 10:16; (note).
That he should put his hands - It was a common custom among the Jews to lay their hands on the heads of those whom they blessed, or for whom they prayed. This seems to have been done by way of dedication or consecration to God - the person being considered as the sacred property of God ever after. Often God added a testimony of his approbation, by communicating some extraordinary influence of the Holy Spirit. This rite has been long practised among Christians, when persons are appointed to any sacred office. But this consecration of children to God seems to have grown out of use. It is no wonder that the great mass of children are so wicked, when so few, are put under the care of Christ by humble, praying, believing parents. Let every parent that fears God bring up his children in that fear; and, by baptism, let each be dedicated to the holy trinity. Whatever is solemnly consecrated to God abides under his protection and blessing.
Of such is the kingdom of heaven - Or, the kingdom of heaven is composed of such. This appears to be the best sense of the passage, and utterly ruins the whole inhuman diabolic system of what is called non-elect infants' damnation; a doctrine which must have sprung from Moloch, and can only be defended by a heart in which he dwells. A great part of God's kingdom is composed of such literally; and those only who resemble little children shall be received into it: see on Matthew 18:3; (note). Christ loves little children because he loves simplicity and innocence; he has sanctified their very age by passing through it himself - the holy Jesus was once a little child.
He - departed thence - That is, from that part of Judea which was beyond Jordan, Matthew 19:1; and then went to Jericho. See Matthew 20:29.
One came - Instead of εις one, several MSS., the Slavonic version, and Hilary, read νεανισκος τις, a certain young man.
Good, etc. - Much instruction may be had from seriously attending to the conduct, spirit, and question of this person.
Why callest thou me good? - Or, Why dost thou question me concerning that good thing? τι με ερωτας περι του αγαθου . This important reading is found in BDL, three others, the Coptic, Sahidic, Armenian, Ethiopic, latter Syriac, Vulgate, Saxon, all the Itala but one, Origen, Eusebius, Cyril, Dionysius Areop., Antiochus, Novatian, Jerome, Augustin, and Juvencus. Erasmus, Grotius, Mill, and Bengel approve of this reading. This authority appears so decisive to Griesbach that he has received this reading into the text of his second edition, which in the first he had interlined. And instead of, None is good but the one God, he goes on to read, on nearly the same respectable authorities, εις εϚιν ο αγαθος . There is one who is good. Let it be observed also that, in the 16th verse, instead of διδασκαλε αγαθε, good teacher, διδασκαλε only is read by BDL, one other, one Evangelistarium, the Ethiopic, three of the Itala, Origen, and Hilary. The whole passage therefore may be read thus: O teacher! what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why dost thou question me concerning that good thing? There is one that is good. (Or he who is good is one). But If thou art willing to enter into that life, keep the commandments. This passage, as it stood in the common editions, has been considered by some writers as an incontrovertible proof against the Divinity or Godhead of Christ. A very learned person, in his note on this place, thus concludes concerning it: "Therefore our Savior cannot be God: and the notion of, I know not what, a trinity in unity, Three Gods in One, is here proved beyond all controversy, by the unequivocal declaration of Jesus Christ Himself, to be Erroneous and Impossible." Not so. One of the greatest critics in Europe, not at all partial to the Godhead of Christ, has admitted the above readings into his text, on evidence which he judged to be unexceptionable. If they be the true readings, they destroy the whole doctrine built on this text; and indeed the utmost that the enemies of the trinitarian doctrine can now expect from their formidable opponents, concerning this text, is to leave it neuter.
Keep the commandments - From this we may learn that God's great design, in giving his law to the Jews, was to lead them to the expectation and enjoyment of eternal life. But as all the law referred to Christ, and he became the end of the law for righteousness (justification) to all that believe, so he is to be received, in order to have the end accomplished which the law proposed.
Thou shalt do no murder, etc. - But some say these commandments are not binding on us. Vain, deceived men! Can a murderer, an adulterer, a thief, and a liar enter into eternal life? No. The God of purity and justice has forbidden it. But we are not to keep these commandments in order to purchase eternal life. Right. Neither Jesus Christ, nor his genuine messengers, say you are. To save your souls, Christ must save you from your sins, and enable you to walk before him in newness of life.
Honour thy father and thy mother - σου thy, is omitted by almost every MS. of respectability.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself - Self-love, as it is generally called, has been grievously declaimed against, even by religious people, as a most pernicious and dreadful evil. But they have not understood the subject on which they spoke. They have denominated that intense propensity which unregenerate men feel to gratify their carnal appetites and vicious passions, self-love; whereas it might be more properly termed self-hatred or self-murder. If I am to love my neighbor as myself and this "love worketh no ill to its neighbor," then self-love, in the sense in which our Lord uses it, is something excellent. It is properly a disposition essential to our nature, and inseparable from our being, by which we desire to be happy, by which we seek the happiness we have not, and rejoice in it when we possess it. In a word, it is a uniform wish of the soul to avoid all evil, and to enjoy all good. Therefore, he who is wholly governed by self-love, properly and Scripturally speaking, will devote his whole soul to God, and earnestly and constantly seek all his peace, happiness, and salvation in the enjoyment of God. But self-love cannot make me happy. I am only the subject which receives the happiness, but am not the object that constitutes this happiness; for it is that object, properly speaking, that I love, and love not only for its own sake, but also for the sake of the happiness which I enjoy through it. "No man," saith the apostle, "ever hated his own flesh." But he that sinneth against God wrongeth his own soul, both of present and eternal salvation, and is so far from being governed by self-love that he is the implacable enemy of his best and dearest interests in both worlds.
All these have I kept - I have made these precepts the rule of my life. There is a difference worthy of notice between this and our Lord's word. He says, Matthew 19:17, τηρησον, keep, earnestly, diligently, as with watch and ward; probably referring not only to the letter but to the spirit. The young man modestly says, all these (εφυλαξα ) have I observed; I have paid attention to, and endeavored to regulate my conduct by them. I have kept them in custody.
From my youth - Several MSS., versions, and fathers, leave out these words. Grotius and Mill approve of the omission, and Griesbach leaves them in the text with a note of suspicion. Perhaps the young man meant no more than that he had in general observed them, and considered them of continual obligation.
What lack I yet? - He felt a troubled conscience, and a mind unassured of the approbation of God; and he clearly perceived that something was wanting to make him truly happy.
If thou wilt be perfect - Τελειος ειναι, To be complete, to have the business finished, and all hinderances to thy salvation removed, go and sell that thou hast - go and dispose of thy possessions, to which it is evident his heart was too much attached, and give to the poor - for thy goods will be a continual snare to thee if thou keep them; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven - the loss, if it can be called such, shall be made amply up to thee in that eternal life about which thou inquirest; and come and follow me - be my disciple, and I will appoint thee to preach the kingdom of God to others. This was the usual call which Christ gave to his disciples. See Matthew 4:19; Matthew 8:22; Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; and it is pretty evident, from this, that he intended to make him a preacher of his salvation. How many, by their attachment to filthy lucre, have lost the honor of becoming or continuing ambassadors for the Most High! See on Mark 10:21; (note).
Went away sorrowful - Men undergo great agony of mind while they are in suspense between the love of the world and the love of their souls. When the first absolutely predominates, then they enjoy a factitious rest through a false peace: when the latter has the upper hand, then they possess true tranquillity of mind, through that peace of God that passeth knowledge.
He had great possessions - And what were these in comparison of peace of conscience, and mental rest? Besides, he had unequivocal proof that these contributed nothing to his comfort, for he is now miserable even while he possesses them! And so will every soul be, who puts worldly goods in the place of the supreme God. See on Mark 10:22; (note).
A rich man shall hardly enter - That is, into the spirit and privileges of the Gospel in this world, and through them into the kingdom of glory. Earthly riches are a great obstacle to salvation; because it is almost impossible to possess them, and not to set the heart upon them; and they who love the world have not the love of the Father in them. 1 John 2:15. To be rich, therefore, is in general a great misfortune: but what rich man can be convinced of this? It is only God himself who, by a miracle of mercy, can do this. Christ himself affirms the difficulty of the salvation of a rich man, with an oath, verily; but who of the rich either hears or believes him!
A camel - Instead of καμηλον, camel, six MSS. read καμιλον, cable, a mere gloss inserted by some who did not know that the other was a proverb common enough among the people of the east.
There is an expression similar to this in the Koran. "The impious, who in his arrogance shall accuse our doctrine of falsity, shall find the gates of heaven shut: nor shall he enter there till a camel shall pass through the eye of a needle. It is thus that we shall recompense the wicked." Al Koran. Surat vii. ver. 37.
It was also a mode of expression common among the Jews, and signified a thing impossible. Hence this proverb: A camel in Media dances in a cabe; a measure which held about three pints. Again, No man sees a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant passing through the eye of a needle. Because these are impossible things. "Rabbi Shesheth answered Rabbi Amram, who had advanced an absurdity, Perhaps thou art one of the Pembidithians who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle; that is, says the Aruch, 'who speak things impossible.'" See Lightfoot and Schoettgen on this place.
Go through - But instead of διελθειν, about eighty MSS. with several versions and fathers, have εισελθειν, to enter in; but the difference is of little importance in an English translation, though of some consequence to the elegance of the Greek text.
Who can be saved? - The question of the disciples seemed to intimate that most people were rich, and that therefore scarcely any could be saved. They certainly must have attached a different meaning to what constitutes a rich man, to what we in general do. Who is a rich man in our Lord's sense of the word? This is a very important question, and has not, that I know of, been explicitly answered. A rich man, in my opinion, is not one who has so many hundreds or thousands more than some of his neighbors; but is one who gets more than is necessary to supply all his own wants, and those of his household, and keeps the residue still to himself, though the poor are starving through lack of the necessaries of life. In a word, he is a man who gets all he can, saves all he can, and keeps all he has gotten. Speak, reason! Speak, conscience! (for God has already spoken) Can such a person enter into the kingdom of God? All, No!!!
With men this is impossible - God alone can take the love of the world out of the human heart. Therefore the salvation of the rich is represented as possible only to him: and indeed the words seem to intimate, that it requires more than common exertions of Omnipotence to save a rich man.
We have forsaken all - "A poor all," says one, "a parcel of rotten nets." No matter - they were their All, whether rotten or sound; besides, they were the all they got their bread by; and such an all as was quite sufficient for that purpose: and let it be observed, that that man forsakes much who reserves nothing to himself, and renounces all expectations from this world, taking God alone for his portion. See Matthew 4:20.
To forsake all, without following Christ, is the virtue of a philosopher. To follow Christ in profession, without forsaking all, is the state of the generality of Christians. But to follow Christ and forsake all, is the perfection of a Christian.
What shall we have therefore? - Τι αρα εϚαι ημιν, What Reward shall we get? This Kypke proves to be the meaning of the words from some of the best Greek writers.
Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, etc. - The punctuation which I have observed here, is that which is followed by the most eminent critics: the regeneration is thus referred to the time when Jesus shall sit on the throne of his glory, and not to the time of following him, which is utterly improper.
The regeneration, παλιγγενεσια . Some refer this to the time in which the new heavens and the new earth shall be created, and the soul and body united. The Pythagoreans termed that παλιγγενεσια, when, according to their doctrine of the transmigration or metempsychosis, the soul entered into a new body, and got into a new state of being. Clement, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, calls the restoration of the world, after the deluge, by the same name.
Judging the twelve tribes - From the parallel place, Luke 22:28-30, it is evident that sitting on thrones, and judging the twelve tribes, means simply obtaining eternal salvation, and the distinguishing privileges of the kingdom of glory, by those who continued faithful to Christ in his sufferings and death.
Judging, κρινοντες . Kypke has shown that κρινεσθαι is to be understood in the sense of governing, presiding, holding the first or most distinguished place. Thus, Genesis 49:16, Dan shall Judge his people, i.e. shall preside in, or rule over them; shall occupy a chief place among the tribes. It is well known that the Judges among the Jews were moderators, captains, chief, or head men. The sense therefore of our Lord's words appears to be, that these disciples should have those distinguished seats in glory which seem to belong peculiarly to the first confessors and martyrs. See 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, and particularly Revelation 20:4-6.
The last-quoted passage brings into view the doctrine of the Millennium, when Jesus, after having formed the new heavens and the new earth, shall reign here gloriously among his ancients 365,000 years; for the thousand years referred to above are certainly prophetical years, in which, it is well known, each day stands for a year.
Others, of no mean note, are of opinion that the regeneration means the conversion of men by the preaching of the Gospel - that sitting on twelve thrones signifies the state of eminent dignity to which the apostles should be raised - and that judging the twelve tribes of Israel, means no more than exercising authority in the Church, and dispensing laws to the people of God. But I confess I do not see the propriety of this application of the terms, as the following verse seems to fix the meaning mentioned above.
Shall receive a hundredfold - Viz. in this life, in value, though perhaps not in kind; and in the world to come everlasting life. A glorious portion for a persevering believer! The fullness of Grace here, and the fullness of Glory hereafter! See on Mark 10:30; (note).
But many that are first, etc. - The Jews, who have been the first and most distinguished people of God, will in general reject the Gospel of my grace, and be consequently rejected by me. The Gentiles, who have had no name among the living, shall be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and become the first, the chief, and most exalted people of God. That this prediction of our Lord has been literally fulfilled, the present state of the Christian and Jewish Churches sufficiently proves. To illustrate this fully, and to demonstrate that the Jews and Gentiles were now put on an equal footing by the Gospel, our Lord speaks the following parable, which has been unhappily divided from its connection by making it the beginning of a new chapter.
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