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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Matthew 14



Verse 1

1. ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ. During the missionary journey of the Twelve. See Mark loc. cit.

Ἡρώδης. Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peræa. He was a son of Herod the Great, and Malthakè, a Samaritan, who was also the mother of Archelaus and Olympias. He was thus of Gentile origin, and his early associations were Gentile, for he was brought up at Rome with his brother Archelaus. He married first a daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, and afterwards, while his first wife was still living, he married Herodias, wife of his half-brother Philip,—who was living in a private station, and must not be confused with Philip the tetrarch of Ituræa. Cruel, scheming, irresolute, and wicked, he was a type of the worst of tyrants. He intrigued to have the title of tetrarch changed for the higher title of king; very much as Charles the Bold of Burgundy endeavoured to change his dukedom into a kingdom. In pursuance of this scheme Antipas went to Rome ‘to receive for himself a kingdom and return’ (Luke 19:12). He was however foiled in this attempt by the arts of his nephew Agrippa, and was eventually banished to Lyons, being accused of confederacy with Sejanus, and of an intention to revolt. Herodias was his worst enemy: she advised the two most fatal errors of his reign: the execution of John Baptist, which brought him into enmity with the Jews, and the attempt to gain the royal title, the result of which was his fall and banishment. But there is a touch of nobility in the determination she took to share her husband’s exile as she had shared his days of prosperity. For Herod’s design against our Lord, see Luke 13:31; and for the part which he took in the Passion, see Luke 23:6-12.

τετράρχης. Literally, the ruler of a fourth part or district into which a province was divided, ἕκαστα (ἔθνη) διελόντες είς τέσσαρας μερίδας τετραρχίαν ἑκάστην ἐκάλεσεν (Strabo xii. p. 850). Afterwards the name was extended to denote generally a petty king, (‘tetrarchiæ regnorum instar,’ Plin. H. N. Matthew 14:16) the ruler of a provincial district. Deiotarus, whose cause Cicero supported, was tetrarch of Galatia. He is called king by Appian, just as Herod Antipas is called king, Matthew 14:9, and Mark 6:14.

The relation of these principalities to the Roman Empire resembled that of the feudal dependencies to the Suzerain in mediæval times, or that of the Indian native states to the British Crown—political independence and the liberty of raising troops, imposing taxes, maintaining courts of justice, only conditional on the payment of tribute into the imperial exchequer.

Verses 1-12


Mark 6:14-29, where the further conjectures as to the personality of Jesus are given, ‘Elias, a [or the] prophet, or as one of the prophets,’ and the whole account is narrated in the vivid dramatic manner of St Mark. St Luke relates the cause of the imprisonment, Luke 3:19-20; the conjectures as to Jesus, Luke 9:7-9.

Verse 2

2. αὐτός. Emphatic, ‘he himself,’ ‘in his own person.’

ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν. A proof that Herod did not hold the Sadducaan doctrine, that there is no resurrection.

διὰ τοῦτο. In consequence of having risen from the dead he is thought to be possessed of larger powers. Alford remarks that this incidentally confirms St John’s statement (ch. Matthew 10:41), that John wrought no miracle while living.

αἱ δυνάμεις.The works of power’ of which Herod had heard. δυνάμεις, miracles regarded as marks of divine power; as proofs or signs of the divine presence they are σημεῖα, as exciting wonder they are τέρατα. The latter word is never used alone of miracles: this is not the side on which the Gospel dwells. Trench. Syn. of N.T. 177 foll.

ἐνεργοῦσιν. Not ‘shew themselves forth,’ A.V., but, ‘are active in him.’ The verb is frequent in Aristotle, the substantive ἐνέργεια is an important philosophical term in relation to δύναμις. The same contrast is suggested here. In Polybius ἐνεργεῖν is sometimes [1] transitive, as πάντα κατὰ δύναμιν ἐνεργεῖν, 18:14; 18:8. Sometimes [2] intransitive, as τῶν αἰτίων ἐνεργούντων κατὰ τὸ συνεχές, 4:40, 4. Both these uses are found in N.T. [1] ὁ αὐτὸς θεὸς ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν, 1 Corinthians 12:6. [2] τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας. Ephesians 2:2.

Verse 3

3. ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ. At Machærus, in Peræa, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, near the southern frontier of the tetrarchy. Here Antipas had a palace and a prison under one roof, as was common in the East. Cp. Nehemiah 3:25, ‘The tower which lieth out from the king’s high house that was by the court of the prison.’ It was the ordinary arrangement in feudal castles. At Machærus, now M’khaur, remains of buildings are still visible. These are probably the ruins of the Baptist’s prison. Herod was living in this border fortress in order to prosecute the war with his offended father-in-law, Aretas. He was completely vanquished—a disaster popularly ascribed to his treatment of John the Baptist.

Verse 4

4. ἔλεγεν. Imperfect, ‘told him repeatedly.’

ἔχειν, ‘to marry’ her. ἔχειν has this special force, 1 Corinthians 5:1, τοιαύτη πορνείαὥστε γυναῖκά τινα τοῦ πατρὸς ἔχειν. ch. Matthew 22:28, πάντες γὰρ ἔσχον αὐτήν. Xen. Cyrop. I, Κυαξάρης ἔπεμψε πρὸς Καμβύσην τὸν τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἔχοντα.

οὐκ ἔξεστίν σοι ἔχειν αὐτήν. St Luke adds, Luke 3:19, that Herod was also reproved ‘περὶ πάντων ὧν ἐποίησεν πονηρῶν.’ ‘Boldly to rebuke vice’ is fixed upon as the leading characteristic of the Baptist in the collect for St John the Baptist’s day.

Verse 5

5. θέλων. From St Mark we learn that Herodias was eager to kill John, while Herod, partly from fear of his prisoner, partly from interest in him, refused to take away his life. St Mark’s narrative gives a picture of the inner court intrigues, and bears evidence of keen questioning of some eye-witness as to facts. Possibly some of Herod’s own household were secret adherents of John.

ἐφοβήθη τὸν ὄχλον. The same motive that held the tyrant’s hand, checked the arguments of the Pharisees, ch. Matthew 21:26.

Verse 6

6. γενεσίοις γενομένοις. Dative of time, ‘marking precisely time when’ (Clyde); cp. τοῖς σάββασιν, ch. Matthew 12:2, Winer, p. 274. Plural, as usual in names of festivals, ἐγκαίνια, ἄζυμα, Παναθήναια, Saturnalia. Here τὰ γενέσια retains what must have been its original sense, ‘a birthday festival;’ but in classical Greek it meant a memorial feast in honour of the dead, celebrated on the anniversary of birth, and so distinguished from τὰ νεκύσια, the feast observed on the anniversary of death. See Rawlinson’s note on Herod. IV. 26. The classical word for a birthday feast was τὰ γενέθλια, this in turn came through the process of Christian thought to mean a festival commemorative of a martyr’s death—his birth into the new life—ἐπιτελεῖν τὴν τοῦ μαρτυρίου αὐτοῦ ἡμέραν γενέθλιον, Martyr. Polyc. 18, p. 1044 A. See Sophocles’ Lexicon on γενέθλιος and γενέσιος and Lob. Phryn. 104.

ὠρχήσατο. Some sort of pantomimic dance is meant. Horace notes as one of the signs of national decay that even highborn maidens learnt the voluptuous dances of the East, Hor. Od. III. 6. 21. Herod would recall similar scenes at Rome. See note Matthew 14:1.

ἡ θυγάτηρ τῆς Ἡρωδιάδος. Salome; she was afterwards married to her uncle Herod-Philip, the tetrarch, and on his death to Aristobulus, grandson of Herod the Great.

Verse 8

8. προβιβασθεῖσα. ‘Impelled,’ ‘instigated;’ cp. Xen. Mem. 1. 5. 1, ἐπισκεψώμεθα εἴ τι προυβίβαζε λέγων εἰς αὐτὴν τοιάδε.

πίναξ = ‘a flat wooden trencher’ on which meat was served, δαιτρὸς δὲ κρειών πίνακας παρέθηκεν ἀείρας, Hom. Od. I. 141. This appears to have been the meaning of the old English word ‘charger’ (A.V.), which is connected with cargo and with French charger, and signified originally that on which a load is placed, hence a dish.

Verse 9

9. λυπηθείς, ‘though vexed;’ he still feared the popular vengeance, and perhaps did not himself desire the death of John, see Mark 6:20.

ὁ βασιλεύς. A title which Antipas had in vain tried to acquire: it was probably addressed to him by his courtiers.

διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους. ‘Because of the oaths;’ he had sworn repeatedly.

Verse 11

11. ἤνεγκεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς. The revenge of Herodias recalls the story of Fulvia, who treated with great indignity the head of her murdered enemy Cicero, piercing the tongue once so eloquent against her. Both are instances of ‘furens quid femina possit.’ The perpetration of the deed on the occasion of a birthday feast would heighten the atrocity of it in the eyes of the ancient world: it was an acknowledged rule, ‘ne die qua ipsi lumen accepissent aliis demerent.’

The great Florentine and other mediæval painters have delighted to represent the contrasts suggested by this scene at Machærus. The palace and the prison—Greek refinement and the preacher’s simplicity—Oriental luxury and Oriental despotism side by side—the cause of the world and the cause of Christ. In all this the ‘irony’ of the Greek dramatists is present. The real strength is on the side that seems weakest.

Verse 12

12. ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα καὶ ἔθαψαν αὐτόν. There is in this some proof of forbearance, if not of kindness, on Herod’s part. He did not persecute John’s disciples, or prevent them paying the last offices to their master.

πτῶμα. Lat. cadaver, in this sense πτῶμα is followed by νεκροῦ, or by genitive of person in classical period as, Ἐτεοκλέους δὲ πτῶμα πολυνείκους τε ποῦ; Eur. Phoen. 1697.

Verse 13

13. πεζῇ (ὁδῷ), ‘on foot,’ i.e. not by boat; cp. Acts 20:13, μέλλων αὐτὸς πεζεύειν.

Verses 13-21


Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:5-14.

This is the only miracle narrated by all the Evangelists. In St John it prepares the way for the memorable discourse on the ‘Bread of Life.’ St John also mentions, as a result of this miracle, the desire of the people ‘to take him by force and make him a king.’ There is a question as to the locality of the miracle. St Luke says (ch. Matthew 9:10) that Jesus ‘went aside privately into a desert place belonging to a city called Bethsaida.’ St Mark (Mark 6:45) describes the disciples as crossing to Bethsaida after the miracle. The general inference has been that there were two Bethsaidas; Bethsaida Julias, near the mouth of the Jordan (where the miracle is usually said to have taken place), and another Bethsaida, mentioned in the parallel passage in St Mark and possibly John 1:44. But the Sinaitic MS. omits the words in italics from Luke, and at John 6:23 reads, ‘When, therefore, the boats came from Tiberias, which was nigh unto the place where they did eat bread.’ If these readings be accepted, the scene of the miracle must be placed near Tiberias; the Bethsaida of Mark, to which the disciples crossed, will be the well-known Bethsaida Julias, and the other supposed Bethsaida will disappear even from the researches of travellers.

Verse 14

14, 22, 25. The subject Ἰησοῦς omitted, insertion due to lectionaries or marginal note.

Verse 15

15. ὀψίας γενομένης. In the Jewish division of the day there were two evenings. According to the most probable view the space of time called ‘between the evenings’ (Exodus 12:6) was from the ninth to the twelfth hour (Jos. B. J. VI. 9. 3). Hence the first evening ended at 3 o’clock, the second began at sunset. In this verse the first evening is meant, in Matthew 14:23 the second.

The meaning of ἡ ὥρα is not quite clear, perhaps the usual hour for the mid-day meal.

Verse 16

16. ὑμεῖς. Emphatic.

Verse 17

17. οὐκ ἔχομεν κ.τ.λ. St John more definitely; ἔστιν παιδάριον ὧδε ὃ ἔχει πέντε ἄρτους κριθίνους, καὶ δύο ὀψάρια (Matthew 6:9). Barley bread (ἄρτους κριθίνους), for which the classical word is μᾶζα, was the food of the very poorest. It seems probable that the English word mass is traceable to μᾶζα, a eucharistic significance having been given to this miracle from very early times. The ἄρτοι were a kind of biscuit, thin and crisp cakes which could be broken, hence κλάσας, κλάσματα, see note, ch. Matthew 6:30. Cp. Juv. 14:67, ‘quanto porrexit murmure panem | vix fractum.

Verse 19

19. ἀνακλιθῆναι ἐπὶ τοῦ χόρτου. St John has ἦν δὲ χόρτος πολὺς ἐν τῷ τόπῳ. St Mark and St Luke mention that they sat in companies, ἀνὰ ἑκατὸν καὶ ἀνὰ πεντήκοντα (Mark), ἀνὰ πεντήκοντα (Luke); to this St Mark adds the picturesque touch, καὶ ἀνέπεσαν πρασιαὶ πρασιαί. (ch. Mark 6:40). St John notes the time of year: ἦν δὲ ἐγγὺς τὸ πάσχα ἡ ἑορτὴ τῶν Ἰουδαίων.

ἔδωκεν. In Mark and Luke ἐδίδου: ‘continued to give,’ ‘kept giving.’

Verse 20

20. τὸ περισσεῦον τῶν κλασμάτων. κλασμάτων connected with κλάσας, therefore not ‘fragments’ in the sense of crumbs of bread, but the ‘portions’ broken off for distribution.

δώδεκα κοφίνους. The same word is used for baskets in the four accounts of this miracle, and also by our Lord, when He refers to the miracle (ch. Matthew 16:9); whereas a different word (σπυρίδες) is used in describing the feeding of four thousand and in the reference made to that event by our Lord (ch. Matthew 16:10). Juvenal describes a large provision-basket of this kind, together with a bundle of hay, as being part of the equipment of the Jewish mendicants who thronged the grove of Egeria at Rome: ‘Judæis quorum cophinus fœnumque supellex, III. 14,’ ‘cophino fœnoque relicto | arcanam Judæa tremens mendicat in aurem,’ VI. 542. The motive for this custom was to avoid ceremonial impurity in eating or in resting at night.

Verse 22

22. τὸ πλοῖον, the ship or their ship.

Verses 22-33


Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21

St Matthew alone narrates St Peter’s endeavour to walk on the sea.

Verse 23

23. ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης. See Matthew 14:15.

μόνος ἦν ἐκεῖ. This is a simple but sublime thought:—the solitary watch on the lonely mountain, the communion in prayer with the Father throughout the beautiful Eastern night.

Verse 24

24. βασανιζόμενον. The expression is forcible, ‘tortured by the waves,’ writhing in throes of agony, as it were. These sudden storms are very characteristic of the Lake of Gennesaret.

Verse 25

25. τετάρτῃ δὲ φυλακῇ, i.e. early in the morning. Cp. ‘Et jam quarta canit venturam buccina lucem,’ Propert. IV. 4. 63. At this time the Jews had adopted the Greek and Roman custom of four night watches. Formerly they divided the night into three watches, or rather according to Lightfoot (Hor. Heb.) the Romans and Jews alike recognised four watches, but with the Jews the fourth watch was regarded as morning, and was not included in the three watches of ‘deep night.’ The four watches are named (Mark 13:35) 1 Even (ὀψέ), 2 Midnight (μεσονύκτιον), 3 Cockcrowing (ἀλεκτοροφωνίας), 4 Morning (πρωΐ). St John states that they had rowed 25 or 30 furlongs.

ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτούς. Mark adds ‘He would have passed by them.’

ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν. ἐπὶ with accus. of motion over a surface, cp. ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον ὁρᾶν περᾶν πλεῖν (Homer). See critical notes, supra.

Verse 25-26

25, 26. The true reading ἐπὶ τὴν θάλ.… ἐπὶ τῆς θαλ. reverses the textus receptus. The change of case after ἐπί, and of the order of the participle, is suggestive: περιπ. ἐπὶ τὴν θάλ. ‘walking over the sea,’ ἐπὶ τῆς θαλ. περιπ. ‘upon the sea,’ (the wonder that first struck the disciples,) ‘walking,’ a secondary thought.

Verse 26

26. ἀπὸ τοῦ φόβου ἔκραξαν. Note the article. Not merely cried out from fear, but the fear which necessarily resulted from the appearance made them cry out.

Verse 29

29. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, ἐλθέ. The boat was so near that the voice of Jesus could be heard even through the storm, though the wind was strong and the oarsmen labouring and perhaps calling out to one another. The hand of the Saviour was quite close to the sinking disciple.

Verse 30

30. ἰσχυρόν. Predicate.

καταποντίζεσθαι. Here and ch. Matthew 18:6 only in N.T. ‘to sink into the deep sea’ (πόντος, the wide open sea, so the deep sea, connected with πάτος and pons, ‘the watery way,’ (Curtius), but according to others with βένθος, βάθος).

Verse 31

31. εἰς τί; Literal translation of the Hebr. lammah, ‘with a view to what?’ = ἱνατί, see note ch. Matthew 27:46. ἐδίστασας, see ch. Matthew 28:17.

Verse 32

32. ἐκόπασεν. κοπάζειν, properly to be weary or fatigued (κόπτω, κόπος), then to rest from weariness or suffering, used of a sick man Hipp. p. 1207, (so κόπος, of the pain of disease, Soph. Phil. 880,) then figuratively of the wind or a flood, cp. Herod. VII. 191, where speaking of the storm at Artemisium he says that the Magi stopped the wind by charms, ἢ ἄλλως κως αὐτὸς ἐθέλων ἐκόπασεν.

Verse 33

33. θεοῦ υἱὸς εἶ. A son of God. The higher revelation of the Son of the living God was not yet given. See ch. Matthew 16:16.

Verse 34

34. διαπεράσαντες. Having crossed the bay from Tiberias to the neighbourhood of Capernaum. See map and note on Matthew 14:13-21.

εἰς Γεννησαρέτ. By this is meant the plain of Gennesaret, two miles and a half in length and about one mile in breadth. Modern travellers speak of ‘its charming bays and its fertile soil rich with the scourings of the basaltic hills.’ Josephus describes the district in glowing terms (B. J. III. 10. 8). See Recovery of Jerusalem, p. 351.

Verses 34-36


Mark 6:53-56, where the stir of the neighbourhood and eagerness of the people are vividly portrayed.

Verse 36

36. παρεκάλουν ἵνα ἅψωνται. For ἵνα in petitio obliqua for the classical ὅπως see note ch. Matthew 1:22, and Goodwin’s Greek Moods and Tenses, p. 78.

The sequence of the subjunctive on a historical tense gives vividness to the narrative by retaining the mood originally used by the speaker. The usage is frequent in the classical period: ἐχέρουν ἐκ τῶν οἰκιῶν ὅπως μὴ κατὰ φῶς προσφέρωνται, Thuc. II. 3. καὶ περὶ τούτων ἐμνήσθην ἵνα μὴ ταὐτὰ πάθητε. Dem. Olynth. III. 30. 10. See note, ch. Matthew 12:14.

τοῦ κρασπέδου. The hem of the garment had a certain sanctity attached to it. It was the distinguishing mark of the Jew: cp. Numbers 15:38-39, ‘that they add to the fringes of the borders (or corners) a thread of blue.’ At each corner of the robe there was a tassel; each tassel had a conspicuous blue thread symbolical of the heavenly origin of the Commandments. The other threads were white.

ὅσοι ἥψαντο διεσώθησαν. Cp. the case of the woman with an issue of blood, ch. Matthew 9:20-22.


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"Commentary on Matthew 14:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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