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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Matthew 17



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. μεθʼ ἡμέρας ἕξ. Within a week of Peter’s confession. St Luke has ‘about an eight days after,’ according to the common Jewish reckoning, by which each part of a day is counted as a day. The note of time cannot be without a purpose. The link is intentional between the announcement of the Passion and the kingdom of utter sacrifice on the one hand, and the foretaste of glory on the other.

τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην. The three who were chosen to be with their Master on the two other occasions, [1] the raising of Jairus’ daughter, [2] the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλόν. A contrast suggests itself, between this mountain of the Kingdom of God, and the mountain of the kingdoms of the world, ch. Matthew 4:8.

An old tradition placed the scene of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. It is known, however, that the summit of Tabor was at this period occupied by a fortress, and there is no hint given of Jesus being in that neighbourhood. Many regard one of the spurs of Hermon, or even its summit (Conder, Tent Work, &c. 266), as the most likely spot. Cæsarea Philippi, the last named locality, lies under Hermon, and its glittering cone of snow may have suggested the expression in Mark, λευκὰ λίαν ὡς χιών, if, indeed, the words ὡς χιὼν are to be admitted into the text.

Verses 1-13


Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36.

Verse 2

2. μετεμορφώθη. ‘Was transformed.’ Here was a change (μετά) of μορφή, ‘the abiding form,’ ‘the manner of existence.’ μεταμορφοῦσθαι ‘involves an inwardness of change, a change not external, not of accidents, but of essence.’ Trench, N.T. Syn. Part II. p. 87. μετασχηματίζειν denotes change of external appearance. See Romans 12:2 and Philippians 2:6-8, where see Bp Lightfoot’s notes and separate note on μορφὴ and σχῆμα.

St Luke records that the change took place ἐν τῷ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτόν.

ὡς ὁ ἥλιοςὡς τὸ φῶς. A hint that the Transfiguration took place at night, which is also rendered probable by the statement of St Luke that the three Apostles were ‘heavy with sleep,’ that they ‘kept awake,’ that they descended ‘the next day,’ ch. Matthew 9:32; Matthew 9:37.

Verse 3

3. ΄ωϋσῆς καὶ Ἡλίας (Elijah). The representatives of the Law and the Prophets. The whole history of the Jewish Church is brought in one glance, as it were, before the Apostles’ eyes in its due relation to Christ. St Luke names the subject of converse: they ‘spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Matthew 9:31).

Verse 4

4. ποιήσω. So in the best MSS., ‘let me make.’ The transition to the singular is in keeping with Peter’s temperament; he would like to make the tabernacles.—Meyer. By σκηναὶ are meant little huts made out of boughs of trees or shrubs, such as were made at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Verse 5

5. οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς κ.τ.λ. Words that recall the baptism of Jesus; ch. Matthew 3:17, where see note. For the tense of εὐδόκησα, cp. παρεδόθη, ch. Matthew 11:27.

Verse 8

8. τὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον. Christ, who came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, is left alone. To His voice alone the Church will listen.

Verse 9

9. τὸ ὅραμα. ‘The thing seen,’ not a ‘vision’ (A.V.) in the sense of a dream: it is equivalent to ἃ εἶδον (Mark), ἅ ἑώρακαν (Luke).

Verse 10

10. οὖν. Elijah had appeared to the chosen three Apostles. It seemed to them that this was a fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy and the necessary condition of the Messiah’s Advent as explained by the Scribes. But they are forbidden to announce this to any one. Hence the inference expressed by οὖν. The Scribes must be mistaken. For surely the Messiah would allow His disciples to make known this clear token of His presence.

Verse 11

11. Ἡλίας ἔρχεται κ.τ.λ. ‘Elijah cometh and will restore all things,’ not will come first (A.V.). Our Lord’s words point to a fulfilment of Malachi 4:5, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστελῶ ὑμῖν Ἡλίαν τὸν Θεσβίτην, πρὶν ἐλθεῖν τὴν ἡμέραν Κυρίου τὴν μεγάλην καὶ ἐπιφανῆ ὃς ἀποκαταστήσει καρδίαν πατρὸς πρὸς υἱόν, καὶ καρδίαν ἀνθρώπου πρὸς τὸν πλησίον αὐτοῦ μὴ ἔλθω καὶ πατάξω τὴν γῆν ἄρδην. Note the concise form of the Lord’s expression; it is not so much a citation as an allusion addressed to ‘those that know the law.’ By such ἀποκαταστήσει πάντα would naturally be interpreted by a reference to the precise words of Malachi. In the light of that prophecy the ἀποκατάστασις would signify a national restoration to unity under the influence of the Messenger of Jehovah.

ἀποκαταστήσει πάντα. Two questions arise in reference to these words, [1] How is the future to be explained? [2] In what sense were they fulfilled by John the Baptist? [1] If the prophecy be regarded as absolutely and finally fulfilled in John the Baptist the point of departure for the future ἀποκαταστήσει, and the present future ἔρχεται must be taken, not from the time when the words were spoken, but from the time when the prophecy was first uttered. Christ cites and affirms the prediction of Malachi. [2] The answer to the second question must be sought in the angelic message to Zachariah, Luke 1:16-17, πολλοὺς τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραὴλ ἐπιστρέψει ἐπὶ Κύριον τὸν Θεὸν αὐτῶν· καὶ αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἡλίου ἐπιστρέψαι καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα καὶ ἀπειθεῖς ἐν φρονήσει δικαίων, ἑτοιμάσαι Κυρίῳ λαὸν κατεσκευασμένον.

The view that regards the words as pointing to an event still in the future, and to the coming of another Elijah, of whom the first Elijah and John were types, is rendered improbable by the words quoted above, and by our Lord’s words in the next verse, Ἡλίας ἤδη ἦλθεν.

Verse 12

12. οὐκ ἐπέγνωσαν, ‘did not recognise.’ ἐπὶ denotes ‘further,’ hence ‘clear’ recognition.

ἐν αὐτῷ ποιεῖν. In classical Greek ποιεῖν would be followed by two accusatives. ἐν αὐτῷ in him as the sphere or field of their action.

μέλλει πάσχειν, is destined to suffer, such is to be his experience also. πάσχειν refers to οὐκ ἐπέγνωσαν as well as to ἐποίησαν ἐν αὐτῷ ὅσα ἠθέλησαν.

Verse 14

14. ἐλθόντων πρὸς τὸν ὄχλον. Some will recall Raphael’s great picture of the Transfiguration, in which the contrast is powerfully portrayed between the scene on the mount, calm, bright, and heavenly, and the scene below of suffering, human passions, and failure.

Verses 14-21


Mark 9:14-29, where the scene and the symptoms of the disease are described with great particularity. Luke 9:37-42.

Verse 15

15. σεληνιάζεται. This is the only special instance of cure in the case of a lunatic. They are mentioned as a class, ch. Matthew 4:24. The word literally means ‘affected by changes of the moon.’ On the thought underlying the word, that there is an access of mania at the time of lunar changes, see Belcher, Our Lord’s Miracles of Healing, p. 131.

St Mark describes the child as foaming, gnashing with his teeth, and pining away. St Luke mentions that he ‘crieth out.’ All these were epileptic symptoms; ‘the child was a possessed epileptic lunatic.’

Verse 17

17. ὦ γενεὰ ἄπιστος καὶ διεστραμμένη, addressed to the scribes and the multitude thronging round, as representing the whole nation. The disciples, if not specially addressed, are by no means excluded from the rebuke. For this moral sense of διαστρέφω cp. Luke 23:2, τοῦτον εὕρομεν διαστρέφοντα τὸ ἔθνος, Philippians 2:15 (Deuteronomy 32:5), γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμένης, and Polyb. VIII. 24. 3, διεστρέφετο ὑπὸ κόλακος.

Verse 20

20. ἐρεῖτε τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ κ.τ.λ. Such expressions are characteristic of the vivid imagery of Eastern speech generally. To ‘remove mountains’ is to make difficulties vanish. The Jews used to say of an eminent teacher, he is ‘a rooter up of mountains.’ See Lightfoot ad loc.

Verse 21

21. Here the received text has: τοῦτο δὲ τὸ γένος οὐκ ἐκπορεύεται εἰ μὴ ἐν προσευχῇ καὶ νηστείᾳ. The words are undisputed in the parallel passage, Mark 9:29, with the exception of καὶ νηστείᾳ omitted by Tischendorf without decisive evidence. Here the omission is supported by אB* 33 and some important versions.

Verse 22-23


Mark 9:31; Luke 9:44

Both St Mark and St Luke add that the disciples ‘understood not this saying.’ It was difficult for them to abandon cherished hopes of an earthly kingdom, and ‘might not Jesus be speaking in parables of a figurative death and resurrection?’ See note, ch. Matthew 16:21.

Observe here the various phases in the prediction of the Passion. The first (ch. Matthew 16:21) foretells the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jews, and his death in the indefinite passive, ἀποκτανθῆναι.

The second speaks of the betrayal into the hands of men, εἰς χεῖρας ἀνθρώπων (Matt., Mark, Luke); and ‘they shall put him to death.’

The third (ch. Matthew 20:17-19) particularises the share taken by Jew and Gentile. The Sanhedrin shall condemn and deliver to the Gentiles, εἰς τὸ ἐμπαῖξαι καὶ μαστιγῶσαι καὶ σταυρῶσαι.

Verses 24-27


Peculiar to St Matthew.

τὰ δίδραχμα. This was not a tribute levied by Cæsar or by Herod, but the half-shekel (Exodus 30:13) paid annually by every Jew into the Temple treasury. The ‘sacred tax’ was collected from Jews in all parts of the world. Josephus (Ant. XVI. 6) has preserved some interesting letters from Roman proconsuls and from Augustus himself, to Cyrene, Ephesus and other communities, directing that the Jews should be allowed to forward their contributions to the Temple without hindrance.

It would be interesting to know whether the Jewish Christians continued to pay the Temple-tax in accordance with the Lord’s example.

After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple the Jews were obliged to pay the two drachmæ into the Roman treasury. Joseph. B. J. VII. 6. 6.

οὐ τελεῖ. Probably some who misunderstood or who wished to misrepresent Jesus had raised the doubt whether He would pay the tribute. It is possibly a hint that His claims to the Messiahship were becoming more widely known. Meyer remarks that the ναὶ of Peter makes it clear that Jesus had been in the habit of paying the tax.

Verse 25

25. προέφθασεν αὐτόν. ‘Anticipated him’ by answering his thoughts.

τέλη ἢ κῆνσον. Taxes [1] indirect and [2] direct; on [1] things and on [2] persons. κῆνσος, Lat. census: see ch. Matthew 22:17.

ἀπὸ τῶν υἱῶν κ.τ.λ., i.e. of their own sons, or of those who do not belong to the family, namely, subjects and tributaries.

Verse 26

26. ἐλεύθεροί εἰσιν οἱ υἱοί, ‘the sons are exempt from tribute.’ The deduction is, ‘Shall he whom thou hast rightly named the Son of God pay tribute to the Temple of his Father?’ The Romans called their sons free (liberi), as opposed to slaves.

Verse 27

27. στατῆρα (ἵστημι, ‘to weigh’), ‘a stater’; a Greek silver coin equivalent to the Hebrew shekel, or to four drachmæ in Greek money, hence sometimes called τετράδραχμος. ‘In paying the temple-tax it is necessary that every one should have half a shekel to pay for himself. Therefore when he comes to the changer he is obliged to allow him some gain which is called κόλλυβος (see ch. Matthew 21:12). And when two pay one shekel between them each of them is obliged to allow the same gain or fee.’ The collection of the Temple tax was made in Adar, the month preceding the Passover. Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr., Matthew 21:12.

ἀντὶ ἐμοῦ καὶ σοῦ. Cp. Exodus 30:12-16, ‘The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they, give an offering unto the Lord to make an atonement for your souls’ (Matthew 17:15). It is in accordance with this thought of atonement or substitution that the preposition ἀντὶ is used.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Matthew 17:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 25th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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