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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Matthew 18



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ. The preceding incident and our Lord’s words had again excited hopes of a glorious kingdom on earth. We may suppose that Jesus and St Peter were alone when the last incident happened, they had entered the house (probably Peter’s) and were now joined by the other apostles who had been disputing on the way (ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, Mark).

ὁ μείζων (τῶν ἄλλων) as distinct from the superlative, the comparative contrasts an object with but one standard of comparison, μέγιστος would have implied three or four degrees of rank among the Twelve. Winer, 303 and 305.

Verses 1-4


Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48

Verse 2

2. ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν. So Mark; St Luke has the more loving ἔστησεν αὐτὸ παρʼ ἑαυτῷ. St Mark notes that Jesus first took the child in His arms (ἐγκαλισάμενος αὐτό).

Verse 3

3. στραφῆτε, ‘be converted;’ cp. John 12:40, ἵνα μὴστραφῶσιν καὶ ἰάσομαι αὐτούς.

οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε, ‘shall not enter,’ much less be great therein.

Verse 4

4. ταπεινώσει ἑαυτόν. He who shall be most Christ-like in humility (see Philippians 2:7-8) shall be most like Christ in glory. Cp. ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτόν, γενομένος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ. διὸ καὶ ὁ Θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν κ.τ.λ., Philippians 2:8-9. ταπεινώσει marks the particular point in which little children are an example to Christians, and the words of St Paul give the precise lesson of this incident taken in connection with the death upon the Cross just foretold. Jesus gives himself to His disciples as an example of ταπεινότης μέχρι θανάτου. See ch. Matthew 11:29.

The expression ταπειν. ἑαυτὸν is more emphatic than the middle voice and implies greater self-mastery.

Verse 5

5. ὃς ἐὰν δέξηται. It is a sacrament of lovingkindness when Christ himself is received in the visible form of His little ones. δέχεσθαι is not only to welcome, show kindness to, but also to receive as a teacher (ἀποδέχεσθαι). The faithful see in the ταπεινότης of little children a symbol of the ταπεινότης of Christ.

Verse 5-6


Mark 9:37-42.

The thought of Jesus passes from the dispute among His disciples to the care of his little ones, the young in faith, who, if they have the weakness, have also the humility of little children.

Verse 6

6. πιστευόντων εἰς ἐμέ. For the distinction between πιστεύειν εἰς ‘to believe in any one,’ i.e. to put entire faith in him, and πιστεύειν τινί, ‘to believe any one,’ i.e. to give credit to his words, see Prof. Westcott on John 8:30 (Speaker’s Commentary). The first construction is characteristic of St John’s gospel and in the Synoptics occurs only here, and in the parallel passage Mark 9:42.

συμφέρει ἵνα, expedit ut. See note ch. Matthew 1:22.

μύλος ὀνικός. A millstone turned by an ass, and so larger than the ordinary millstone. Cp. Ovid (Fasti VI. 318): ‘Et quæ pumiceas versat asella molas.’

The manner of death alluded to appears to have been unknown to the Jews. But Plutarch mentions this punishment as being common to Greece and Rome. Cp. Juv. Sat. VIII. 213, where, as in other places, it is named rather than the cross as a swift and terrible penalty for crime. The Scholiast on Aristoph. Equites, 1360, explains ὑπέρβολον, ὅταν γὰρ κατεπόντουν τινὰς βάρος ἀπὸ τῶν τραχήλων ἐκρέμων.

ἐν τῷ πελάγει τῆς θαλάσσης. πέλαγος does not in itself mean the ‘deep sea,’ but either ‘the expanse of open water’ (πλάξ, πλατύς, flat, &c.), or the ‘tossing,’ ‘beating’ sea (πλήσσω from root πλαγ). In this passage, therefore, the sense of depth is rather to be looked for in καταποντισθῇ, though the connection between πόντος and βένθος, βάθος, &c., is doubtful; Curtius prefers the etymology of πάτος, ‘path,’ and Lat. pons. (See Trench, N.T. Syn. 52, 53, and Curtius, Etym. 270 and 278.)

Verse 7

7. οὐαί. Alexandrine, but corresponding to ὀά, Æsch., Pers. 115, 121, the Latin form is væ. ἀπὸ denotes that σκάνδαλα are the source of woes.

σκάνδαλα. Snares, allurements to evil, temptations. See notes on ch. Matthew 5:29-30.

Verses 7-9


Mark 9:43-48.

From offences—snares and hindrances to the faith of Christ’s little ones—the discourse proceeds to offences in general—everything that hinders the spiritual life.

Verse 8

8. καλὸν. Cp. Luke 15:7, χαρὰ ἔσται ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι ἢ ἐπὶ ἐνενηκονταεννέα δικαίοις. Instances are quoted from the classics, as Thuc. VI. 21, αἰσχρὸν βιασθέντας ἀπελθεῖν ἤ ὕστερον ἐπιμεταπέμπεσθαι, but it is better to refer the construction to the Hebrew usage, by which the comparative idea is expressed by the positive adjective followed by the preposition min (from). The construction is common in the LXX. and it may be noted that a rare classical usage tends to become frequent in Hellenistic Greek if it be found to correspond to a common Hebrew idiom. For another instance of this see note on τοῦ πυρὸς below.

Verse 9

9. μονόφθαλμον. In classical Greek a distinction is made: the Cyclops or the Arimaspi (Hdt. III. 116) are μονόφθαλμοι. A man who has lost an eye is ἑτερόφθαλμος. Cp. Hdt. loc. cit. πείθομαι δὲ οὐδὲ τοῦτο, ὅκως μουνόφθαλμοι ἄνδρες φύονται.

τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός. ‘The fiery Gehenna.’ This adjectival genitive may be paralleled from the classics: χόρτων εὐδένδρων Εὐρώπαν, Iph. in Taur. 134. See note ch. Matthew 5:22, and Donaldson, Greek Grammar, p. 481, for other instances. But the frequency of the usage in Hellenistic Greek is again attributable to the Hebrew idiom.

Verse 10

10. οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτῶν. In these words our Lord sanctions the Jewish belief in guardian angels. Cp. Acts 12:15, ὁ ἄγγελός ἐστιν αὐτοῦ, and Hebrews 1:14, οὐχὶ πάντες εἰσὶν λειτουργικὰ πνεύματα εἰς διακονίαν ἀποστελλόμενα διὰ τοὺς μέλλοντας κληρονομεῖν σωτηρίαν; The reserve with which the doctrine is dwelt upon in the N.T. is in contrast with the general extravagance of Oriental belief on the subject.

βλέπουσιν τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ πατρός μου. The image is drawn from the court of an Eastern king, where the favoured courtiers enjoy the right of constant approach to the royal presence; cp. Esther 1:14, ‘Which saw the king’s face and which sat the first in the kingdom.’

Verses 10-14


Luke 15:3-7.

After a brief digression (Matthew 18:7-9), Christ’s love for His young disciples again breaks out in words. Let no one despise them. They have unseen friends in the court of heaven, who are ever in the presence of the King himself. There, at any rate, they are not despised. It was for them especially that the Son of Man came to earth.

Verse 11

11. Here the textus receptus has: ἦλθε γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός. This is strongly supported by the later MSS. The omission rests on the evidence of אBL, and several versions and Fathers.

Verse 12

12. The expression and the imagery of the parable recall Ezekiel 34; comp. also ch. Matthew 15:24. In Luke the parable is spoken with direct reference to publicans and sinners, whom the Pharisees despised, and who are the ‘little ones’ of these verses. Such differences of context in the Gospels are very instructive; they are, indeed, comments by the Evangelists themselves on the drift and bearing of particular sayings of Christ.

This parable is followed in Luke by the parable of the Lost Drachma and that of the Prodigal Son which illustrate and amplify the same thought.

ἀφεὶς τὰ ἐνενήκοντα. St Luke adds ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ.

Verse 15

15. ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν κ.τ.λ. ‘Rebuke him.’ See Leviticus 19:17, ‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke (ἐλέγξεις, LXX.) thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him’ (rather, ‘not bear sin on his account,’ ‘by bearing secret ill-will,’ Ephesians 4:26; or by ‘encouraging him to sin by withholding due rebuke.’ Speaker’s Commentary ad loc.).

ἐκέρδησας, ‘gained,’ i.e. won over to a better mind,—to Christ. Cp. 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, and 1 Peter 3:1. The aorist is of the action just past. If he shall have heard thee thou didst (at that moment) gain thy brother.

Verses 15-35


Luke 17:3-4

God’s forgiveness of sinners suggests the duty of forgiveness among men.

Verse 17

17. εἰπὲ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ. The word ἐκκλησία is found only here and ch. Matthew 16:18 (where see note) in the Gospels. In the former passage the reference to the Christians Church is undoubted. Here either [1] the assembly or congregation of the Jewish synagogue, or rather, [2] the ruling body of the synagogue (collegium presbyterorum, Schleusner) is meant. This must have been the sense of the word to those who were listening to Christ. But what was spoken of the Jewish Church was naturally soon applied to the Christian Church. And the use of the term by Christ implied for the future an organised Church exercising discipline, organised too at least in part on the model of the synagogue.

ὁ ἐθνικὸς καὶ ὁ τελώνης. Jesus, the friend of publicans and sinners, uses the phrase of his contemporaries. What Jesus says, Matthew the publican records. ἐθνικός, the adjective of ἔθνη, in the special Jewish sense of ‘Gentiles,’ in Polybius ἐθνικὸς = ‘national.’

Verse 18

18. ὅσα ἐὰν δήσητε κ.τ.λ. What was spoken to Peter alone is now spoken to all the disciples, representing the Church. ‘Whatsoever you as a Church declare binding or declare not binding, that decision shall be ratified in heaven.’ Note the tense, ἔσται δεδεμέναλελυμένα, ‘shall have been bound … loosed,’ and cp. note ch. Matthew 9:2.

Verse 19

19. The slight digression is continued. Christ thinks of His Church. Not only shall your decisions be ratified, but your requests shall be granted, provided ye agree.

ἐὰν συμφωνήσουσιν. For this construction see Winer, p. 369. The close relation between the future indicative and the subjunctive moods easily accounts for the usage; in many passages the readings vary between the subjunctive and the future indicative; in Acts 8:31, ἐὰν μή τις ὁδηγήσει is read by Tischendorf and Tregelles. It is more startling to find ἐὰν οἴδαμεν, 1 John 5:15. ὅταν ἐθεώρουν, Mark 3:11. ὅταν ἤνοιξεν, Revelation 8:1. See also the quotation from the Scholiast, Matthew 18:5, where ὅταν is followed by indicative.

Verse 20

20. δύο ἢ τρεῖς. In the smallest gathering of His followers Christ will be present.

συνηγμένοι. συνάγειν is used specially of the ‘gathering’ of the Church, as Acts 11:26, συναχθῆναι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ. Matthew 20:8, ἐν τῷ ὑπερῴῳ οὗ ἦμεν συνηγμένοι. Hence in later Ecclesiastical Greek σύναξις is ‘a religious service,’ συναξάριον a ‘service book,’ συνάξιμος ἡμέρα ‘a day on which services are held.’

Verse 21

21. ἕως ἑπτάκις. The Rabbinical rule was that no one should ask forgiveness of his neighbour more than thrice. Peter, who asks as a scribe a scribe’s question, thought he was making a great advance in liberality and shewing himself worthy of the kingdom of heaven. But the question itself indicates complete misunderstanding of the Christian spirit.

Verse 22

22. ἕως ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά, i.e. an infinite number of times. There is no limit to forgiveness.

Verse 23

23. ἠθέλησεν συνᾶραι λόγον μετὰ τῶν δούλων αὐτοῦ. The picture is drawn from an Oriental Court. The provincial governors, farmers of taxes, and other high officials, are summoned before a despotic sovereign to give an account of their administration.

ἠθέλησεν, ‘chose,’ ‘resolved:’ all is subject to his sole will.

δούλων, i.e. subjects, for all subjects of an Eastern monarch from the highest to the lowest are ‘slaves.’ Demosthenes frequently makes a point of this, e.g. Phil. III. 32, κἂν αὐτὸς μὴ παρῇ τοὺς δούλους ἀγωνοθετήσοντας πέμπει. This shade of meaning is perhaps present in the Apostolic title δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, Romans 1:1.

Verse 24

24. μυρίων ταλάντων. Even if silver talents are meant, the sum is enormous—at least two million pounds of our money. It was probably more than the whole annual revenue of Palestine at this time; see Joseph. Ant. XII. 4. 4. The modern kingdoms of Norway or Greece or Denmark hardly produce a larger national income.

It is the very sum which Demosthenes records with pride to have been stowed in the Acropolis at the height of Athenian prosperity: πλείω δʼ ἢ μύρια τάλαντα εἰς τὴν ἀκρόπολιν ἀνήγαγον. Olyn. III. 24.

The vast amount implies the hopeless character of the debt of sin.

Verse 25

25. μὴ ἔχοντος, ‘since he had not.’ He had wasted in extravagance the provincial revenues, or the proceeds of taxation.

Verse 26

26. προσεκύνει. The imperfect tense denotes persistence.

Verse 27

27. τὸ δάνειον ἀφῆκεν αὐτῷ. With the almost reckless generosity of an Eastern Court that delights to exalt or debase with swift strokes. The pardon is free and unconditional.

Verse 28

28. εὗρεν, ‘found,’ perhaps even sought him out.

ἕνα τῶν συνδούλων. By this is meant the debt of man to man, offences which men are bound to forgive one another.

ἑκατὸν δηνάρια. The denarius was a day’s wage (ch. Matthew 20:2). The sum therefore is about three months’ wages for an ordinary labourer, by no means a hopeless debt as the other was; see note, ch. Matthew 26:7.

ἔπνιγεν, imperfect, not aor. 2, which does not appear to be used in the active. See Veitch and Lob. Phryn. 107.

Verse 29

29. παρεκάλει. Contrast this with προσεκύνει, Matthew 18:26. παρακαλεῖν would be used by an equal addressing an equal.

Verse 31

31. ἐλυπήθησαν σφόδρα. This seems to point to the common conscience of mankind approving or anticipating the divine sentence.

Verse 33

33. Cp. the Lord’s Prayer, where forgiveness of others is put forward as the claim for divine pardon.

Verse 34

34. The acquittal is revoked—a point not to be pressed in the interpretation. The truth taught is the impossibility of the unforgiving being forgiven, but the chief lesson is the example of the divine spirit of forgiveness in the act of the king. This example the pardoned slave should have followed.

τοῖς βασανισταῖς. ‘To the keepers of the prison,’ the gaolers, part of whose duty it was to torture (βασανίζειν) the prisoners. Thus in the Greek version of Jeremiah 20:2, by Symmachus, βασανιστήριον is ‘a prison’ (A.V. ‘stocks’). Fischer, de vitiis Lex. N.T., p. 458.

Verse 35

35. ἀπὸ τῶν καρδιῶν ὑμῶν. A different principle from the Pharisee’s arithmetical rules of forgiveness.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Matthew 18:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 27th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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