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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Matthew 6



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. δικαιοσύνην for ἐλεημοσύνην. See crit. notes for the evidence for the reading. The two words were nearly synonymous with the Jews, partly because the poor had a right to share in the produce of the land; partly because almsgiving is the most natural and obvious external work of righteousness. In the same way ἀγάπη, the leading Christian virtue, has lost its original breadth of meaning and has sunk to the modern and restricted sense of ‘charity.’

Verse 2

2. ἐλεημοσύνη, not classical: it occurs in a poem by Callimachus of Cyrene, librarian of the famous Alexandrian library, circa 260 B.C. Elsewhere it seems to be confined to LXX. and to two writers in the N.T., St Matthew and St Luke. With Christianity the word became frequent and is found in all western languages in different forms—aumône, almosen, alms.

μὴ σαλπίσῃς. The chests for alms in the Synagogue and also in the Temple treasury were called shopharoth (trumpets) from their shape. Possibly the words of the text contain a reference to these shopharoth. Those who dropped their coins into the ‘trumpets’ with a ringing sound might be said σαλπίζειν. Schöttgen ad loc. But perhaps the expression means simply ‘avoid ostentation in almsgiving.’

οἱ ὑποκριταί. ὑποκριτὴς [1] lit. ‘one who answers,’ then from dialogues on the stage [2] ‘an actor,’ hence [3] in a sense confined to LXX. (Job 34:30; Job 36:13) and N.T. and there with one exception (Mark 7:6) to Matthew and Luke, ‘hypocrites,’ those who play a part in life, whose actions are not the true reflection of their thoughts, whose religion is external and unreal. Such men begin by deceiving others, but end in self-deception. It is against these that our Lord’s severest reproofs are delivered. ὑπόκρισις occurs in late authors (Polyb., Lucian) in the sense of ‘dissimulation,’ ‘hypocrisy.’

ἐν ταῖς ῥύμαις. ῥύμη passed from its classical force of ‘a rush,’ ‘impetus’, through the softened meaning of ‘going’, to that of a narrow lane or street, like English ‘alley’ from French aller. Polybius uses the word for the streets in a camp. In Luke 14:21 the ῥύμαι are contrasted with the πλατεῖαι or broad open spaces in an Eastern city. Schöttgen suggests that the meaning here may be the narrow ‘passages’ in a synagogue.

ἀπέχουσιν, ‘have in full.’ Their reward is now and on earth, cp. Luke 6:24, ἀπέχετε τὴν παράκλησιν. Philippians 4:18, ἀπέχω πάντα, and for the thought, ἀπέλαβες τὰ ἀγαθά σου ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου, Luke 16:25.

Verse 3

3. σοῦ δὲ ποιοῦντος. Observe the singular number here and Matthew 6:6; the duties of prayer and almsgiving are taught in their personal and individual aspect. The teaching of the Talmud commends secresy in almsgiving in such sayings as ‘he that doeth alms in secret is greater than Moses.’ But the spirit of hypocrisy prevailed; the Pharisees taught and did not.

Verse 4

4. The restored reading in this verse (see above crit. notes) gives the real antithesis which lies in the contrast between reward by God and reward by man, not between secret act and open reward. The repeated ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ links together the thoughts of the secret act and of the eye that sees things secret.

Verse 5

5. προσεύχησθε. Plural, because here the reference is to public worship. It is a rule for the Church.

τῶν πλατειῶν. See note Matthew 6:2, ῥύμαις. πλατεῖαι not classical in this sense is a literal translation of a Hebrew word.

ἑστῶτες. There is no stress on this word, for the posture of standing was as closely connected with prayer as that of sitting was with teaching.

Verse 6

6. ταμιεῖον. A private oratory or place of prayer. These were usually in the upper part of the house; in classical Greek ‘storehouse’ or ‘treasury’, the meaning of the word Luke 12:24. See Matthew 24:26.

πρόσευξαι τῷ πατρί σου τῷ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ. Christ was the first to enjoin clearly secret and silent prayer. Certainly to pray aloud and in public appears to have been the Jewish practice (see however 1 Samuel 1:13); it is still the practice with the heathen and Mahommedans. The Roman looked with suspicion on private prayer: ‘quod scire hominem nolunt deo narrant’ (Seneca). Cp. Hor. Ep. I. 16. 59–62, where see Macleane’s note. Cp. also Soph. Electra 638, where Clytemnestra apologises for offering up a secret prayer.

Verse 7

7. μὴ βαττολογήσητε. It is not the length of time spent in prayer or the fervent or reasonable repetition of forms of prayer that is forbidden, but the mechanical repetition of set words, and the belief that the efficacy of prayer consists in such repetition.

βαττολογεῖν, not classical, and ἅπαξ λεγ. in N.T. ‘to stammer,’ so ‘to repeat words again and again.’ The word is generally derived from Battus founder of Cyrene who stammered and had a lisp in his speech, ἰσχνόφωνος καὶ τραυλός, Herod. IV. 155, where the story is given. Possibly it was a Cyrenian term, in which case the meaning ‘to stammer like your founder Battus’ would popularise the word. According to Herod. loc. cit. Battus was Libyan for ‘king.’

ὥσπερ οἱ ἐθνικοί. The Jews also had a saying ‘every one that multiplies prayer is heard.’

Verse 8

8. οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ κ.τ.λ. Our Father knows our wants, still we are bound to express them. Why? because this is a proof of our faith and dependence upon God, which are the conditions of success in prayer.

Verses 9-13


St Luke 11:2-4, where the prayer is found in a different connection, and is given by our Lord in answer to a request from the disciples to teach them to pray, ‘even as John taught his disciples.’ The text of St Luke as it stands in E.V. has probably been supplemented by additions from St Matthew.

πάτερ ἡμῶν. It is of the essence of Christian prayer that God should be addressed as a Father to whose love we appeal, not as a God whose anger we appease. The analogy removes nearly all the real difficulties on the subject of prayer. A wise earthly father does not grant all requests, but all which are for the good of his children and which are in his power to grant. Again, the child asks without fear, yet no refusal shakes his trust in his father’s love or power.

ἁγιασθήτω, ‘held sacred,’ ‘revered.’ Each of these petitions implies an obligation to carry out on our own part what we pray God to accomplish.

Verse 10

10. ἐλθάτω ἡ βασιλεία σου. Note the loss in the A.V. of the emphasis given by the position of ἁγιασθήτωἐλθάτωγενηθήτω. See note ch. Matthew 3:2. Lightfoot (Hor. Heb.) quotes an axiom from the Jewish Schools, ‘that prayer wherein there is not mention of the Kingdom of God is not prayer.’

Verse 11

11. ἄρτον, ‘Bread,’ primarily in a literal sense, subsistence as distinct from luxury; but the spiritual meaning cannot be excluded, Christ the Bread of Life is the Christian’s daily food.

The address to God as Father influences each petition—to feed, to forgive and to protect his children, are special acts of a father’s love.

ἐπιούσιον. This word is unknown to the Classics and in N.T. occurs in the Lord’s Prayer only. For a full discussion of the meaning and history of this word see Bp Lightfoot, On a Fresh Revision of the N.T., Appendix 195. His ultimate decision is, “that the familiar rendering ‘daily’ … is a fairly adequate representation of the original; nor indeed does the English language furnish any one word which would answer the purpose so well.” Dr McClellan has also written an exhaustive treatise on ἐπιούσιος (Notes on the Four Gospels, p. [632]); he translates, ‘give us to-day,’ and ‘give us day by day [Luke] our bread of life eternal.’

Two derivations have been given. A. ἐπὶ and οὐσία. B. The participle of ἐπιέναι, either masc. ἐπιών, or fem. ἡ ἐπιοῦσα (ἡμέρα).

A. The principal meanings which rely on this etymology are: [1] ‘for subsistence,’ so ‘necessary,’ ‘needful,’ or [2] ‘supersubstantial,’ i.e. above all essences, so ‘excellent’ or ‘preeminent.’ Both these renderings are open to exception; for οὐσία is very rare in the sense required by [1], and [2] belongs to a much later theological terminology, and is foreign to the simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer. But the form of the compound ἐπιούσιος rather than ἐπούσιος affords the most conclusive argument against any interpretation founded on a derivation from οὐσία. περιούσιος, sometimes adduced in support of such a form, is not to the point (for the ι in περὶ regularly remains unelided), nor are ἐπιανδάνω, ἐπιεικής, ἐπίορκος, and the like (see Bp Lightfoot’s Dissertation); for the words which here follow ἐπὶ originally began with a digamma.

B. (α) Derived immediately from the masc. participle ἐπιών, as ἐθελούσιος from ἐθέλων, ἑκούσιος from ἑκών, the adjective has received the meaning of ‘coming,’ ‘succeeding’ or ‘future,’ ‘futurus,’ ‘veniens,’ ‘adveniens,’ a meaning which by a very early interpretation of the word is extended to ‘belonging to the future, eternal life,’ so ‘heavenly’ or ‘spiritual.’

Against this meaning of the noun and adjective it may be argued: [1] A word made for the occasion could not have received the succession of meanings implied by this sense; [2] There would be no need to coin a word to express a meaning already conveyed by ἐπουράνιος, αἰώνιος, &c.; [3] ἐπιὼν implies the nearer future as distinct from μέλλων which relates to a more distant future; [4] The one petition for the supply of simple temporal wants is essential to this, the model of all Christian prayer. Therefore, though the spiritual sense is not excluded, it is present as a secondary and not as a primary meaning.

(β) Another line of interpretation connects ἐπιούσιος with the quasisubstantive ἡ ἐπιοῦσα (ἡμέρα) and gives the following meanings: [1] ‘for the morrow,’ ‘crastinum’; [2] ‘daily,’ ‘quotidianum’ of the Vetus Itala and of the Vulgate in Luke (not in Matthew where Jerome renders the word ‘supersubstantialem’); [3] ‘continual,’ ‘assiduum,’ perhaps from the notion of succeeding days.

Of these, [1] and [2] approach very nearly to the true meaning of the word, but against all these the same objection holds which was urged above, viz. that the ideas were expressed by existing adjectival forms. The necessity of a new word arises from the necessity of expressing a new idea, and the new idea expressed by ἐπιούσιος and by no other Greek adjective is that of the closely impending future, the moment, the hour, or the day that succeeds the present instant. Translate therefore ‘bread for instant need.’ For this precise thought no other adjective exists but ἐπιούσιος; but it is the thought that distinguishes ἡ ἐπιοῦσα from ἡ αὔριον. ἡ αὔριον implies the interval of a night, it implies delay, it excludes the present and is contrasted with it; ἡ ἐπιοῦσα (ἡμέρα, νύξ [Acts 23:11] or ὥρα) implies absence of interval and immediate succession. See Bp Lightfoot’s Dissertation, p. 203, where this distinction is clearly shown, and comp. the following instances: Hdt. III. 85, ὥρη μηχανᾶσθαι καὶ μὴ ἀναβάλλεσθαι ὡς τῆς ἐπιούσης ἡμέρης ὁ ἀγὼν ἡμῖν ἐστι; Polyb. III. 42. 9, παρασκευαζόμενοι πρὸς τὴν ἐπιοῦσαν χρείαν, ‘ad instans negotium’ (Schweighäuser). ἡ ἐπιοῦσα occurs once only in the LXX., Proverbs 27:1 and in N.T. in the Acts only, where in three instances out of five it is used of pursuing a voyage on the ‘succeeding’ day, in one, ch. Matthew 23:11, of the Lord appearing to Paul τῇ ἐπιούσῃ νυκτί, i.e. without an interval.

Thus this interesting word ἐπιούσιος beautifully and alone expresses our dependence, each succeeding day and hour, on our Father for the supply of needs temporal, and in a secondary sense, of needs spiritual. It is the thought expressed by Dr Newman:

‘Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene, one step enough for me.’

Verse 12

12. ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν. ἀφιέναι and ἄφεσις are the words used in the N.T. to express the act of forgiveness whether on the part of God or of man. It is important to fix as precisely as possible the meaning of terms intimately bound up with the thought of the Atonement. To the Jewish mind the figure would connect itself with the year of jubilee or release (ἔτος or ἐνιαυτὸς τῆς ἀφέσεως or simply ἄφεσις, Leviticus 25:31; Leviticus 25:40; Leviticus 27:24) in which all debts were remitted. See Trench, N.T. Syn. p. 131. To the Greek mind it would denote the thought of ‘letting go’ from a charge (ἐγκλήματα, φόνον, Demosth. passim), or from penalties (πληγάς, Aristoph. Nubes, 1426), but also the idea of forgiveness of debt and generally of condoning faults: ἀπῆκέ τʼ ἂν αὐτῷ τὴν αἰτίην, Hdt. VI. 30.

ὀφειλήματα. Sin is a debt—a shortcoming in the service due to God or a harm to fellow-men that requires reparation. St Paul gives vivid expression to the thought Colossians 2:14, ἐξαλείψας τὸ καθʼ ἡμῶν χειρόγραφον, ‘the bond against us’—‘the account standing against us.’ It is contemplated as a thing left undone, rather than an act of transgression.

ἀφήκαμεν. The force of the aorist (see Crit. Notes) is that the act of forgiveness on man’s part is past before he prays to receive forgiveness. Cp. ch. Matthew 5:23-24, also the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, ch. Matthew 18:23 seqq.

Verse 13

13. μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν. The statement of James 1:2, χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε ὅταν πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις, is not really contradictory. The Christian character is strengthened and purified by temptation, but no one can think of temptation without dread.

ῥῦσαι. Lit. ‘draw to thyself,’ ‘rescue,’ as from an enemy. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Ἰησοῦν τὸν ῥυόμενον ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τῆς ὀργῆς τῆς ἐρχομένης, where the act of rescuing is regarded as continuous, and Colossians 1:13, ὃς ἐρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους, where the reference is to a single act of salvation. The aorist imperative (ῥῦσαι) indicates a prayer for instant and special deliverance, not continued preservation from danger, cp. δὸς and ἄφες above and σῶσον, ἀπολλύμεθα, ch. Matthew 8:25.

ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ. [1] From the evil one, i.e. Satan, or [2] from evil. The Greek bears either rendering, but the neuter is preferable and gives a deeper sense. We pray to be delivered from all that is included under the name of evil, not only from external evil but from the principle of evil within us.

The Formal Structure of the Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer falls naturally into two divisions answering to one another. The thought of the first line—God addressed as Father—is felt in each petition. The next three lines correspond to one another precisely in structure and in rhythm. Note the sense of earnestness expressed by the aorist imperative with which each line begins, and the sense of devotion expressed by the thrice repeated σου.

These three petitions are in gradation, forming a climax. [1] The preparation for the Kingdom; [2] the coming of it; [3] the perfection of it. This answers to three historical stages: the acknowledgement of Jehovah in the O.T.; the advent of the Kingdom in the N.T.; the realised Kingdom in the Church of Christ.

The addition to the third petition ὡς ἐν οὐρ. καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς at once recalls the address in the first line ὁ ἐν οὐρ, and connects the second division of the prayer with the first by linking οὐρανὸς and γῆ.

In the three last petitions there is also a climax. [1] Prayer for the supply of present temporal need—the necessary condition of earthly life. [2] Prayer for forgiveness of past sin—the necessary condition of spiritual life. [3] Prayer for future exemption from evil, even from temptation to evil, i.e. σωτηρία or salvation. Cp. with the three points of time thus faintly indicated, Soph. Ant. 607, τό τʼ ἔπειτα καἱ τὸ μέλλον | καὶ τὸ πρὶν ἐπαρκέσει, ‘shall hold good for future near and far as through the past,’ where τὸ ἔπειτα = ἐπιούσιον, see note supra.

Last, observe the correspondence of the several clauses in each division: [1] God’s name hallowed, with the food and sustenance of the Christian life. [2] The Kingdom of God, with forgiveness of sins (cp. Matthew 3:2 with Mark 1:4). [3] The will of God, with freedom from evil (1 Thessalonians 4:3, Hebrews 10:10). In accordance with this interpretation a spiritual sense is given to ἄρτον also, as Christ, the Bread of Life.

Verse 14

14. παραπτώματα. Another conception of sin, either [1] a false step, a blunder, or [2] a fall beside the way (cp. παραπεσόντες, Hebrews 6:6), so a transgression. In ὀφειλήματα sin is viewed in its aspect toward another, in παραπτώματα in its relation to the offender himself, παράπτωμα is later and rarer than παράπτωσις. Polybius uses the word with the same meaning as in the text; in Diod. Sic. it means ‘a defeat.’ For the force of παρὰ cp. παρακόπτειν and παράσημος of coins struck on the side instead of in the centre.

Verse 16

16. Fasting, in itself a natural result of grief, as any one who has witnessed deep sorrow knows, easily degenerates into a form without reality.

ἀφανίζουσιν. Either [1] make unseen, ‘veil,’ or [2] cause to disappear, so ‘destroy’, hence [3] ‘mar,’ by leaving the face unwashen, or by throwing ashes on the head. The first meaning [1] is well established, that of [2] ‘destroying’ is the prevailing one in LXX., the sense of [3] ‘disfiguring,’ or ‘marring’ has less support. Wetstein quotes Etym. M. ἀφανίσαι, οἱ πάλαι οὐχὶ τὸ μολῦναι ὡς νῦν ἀλλὰ τὸ τελέως ἀφανῆ ποιῆσαι, and Chrys. ἀφανίζουσιν, τοῦτό ἐστιν διαφθείρουσιν, scil. cinere.

The apparent play upon the Greek words ἀφανίζουσινφανῶσιν has been adduced in support of their view by those who consider Greek to have been that original language of the gospel; but it is more than doubtful that the antithesis is intended.

ὅπως φανῶσιν. Not as in A.V. ‘that they may appear’ but ‘that they may be seen to be fasting.’

Verse 17

17. σὺ δὲ νηστεύων ἄλειψαι, as if feasting rather than fasting: cp. τὼ δὲ λοεσσαμένω καὶ ἀλειψαμένω λίπʼ ἐλαίῳ | δείπνῳ ἐφιζανέτην, Il. X. 577.

Verse 18

18. κρυπτῷ is read for κρυφαίῳ from the occurrence of the word in Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6.

Verse 19

19. θησαυροὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς. Cp. ἐκ γῆς γὰρ τάδε πάντα καὶ ἐς γῆν πάντα τελευτᾷ (Xenophanes). Love of amassing wealth has been characteristic of the Jews in all ages.

Oriental wealth consisted to a great extent in stores of linen, embroidered garments, &c., which were handed down and left as heirlooms.

σής. The English word ‘moth’ = ‘the devourer’.

βρῶσις. Money was frequently buried in the ground in those unsettled times, and so would be more liable to rust. Banks in the modern sense were unknown. Cp. ὁ πλοῦτος ὑμῶν σέσηπεν καὶ τὰ ἱμάτια ὑμῶν σητόβρωτα γέγονεν, James 5:2-3. One of the many references to the Sermon on the Mount in that epistle. Elsewhere in N.T. βρῶσις means ‘eating,’ as John 4:32, ἐγὼ βρῶσιν ἔχω φαγεῖν ἣν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε, and Romans 14:17, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ βρῶσις καὶ πόσις, with this cp. Hom. Od. x. 167 ὄφρʼ ἐν νηὶ θοῇ βρῶσίς τε πόσις τε. This force remains in late Greek. Here either [1] of metals ‘rust,’ or [2] ‘eating away’ with special reference to σής, with which it would form a kind of hendiadys (cp. σητόβρωτα in the citation from St James above), or [3] decay in general. On the whole the second [2] is probably the kind of spoiling or decay chiefly thought of, but the other meanings need not be excluded. The word βρῶσις is doubtless influenced by the Hebr. achal as used Malachi 3:11.

διορύσσουσιν. An expression applicable to the mud walls of Oriental huts. Cp. Job 24:16, διώρυξεν ἐν σκότει οἰκίας, and Thuc. II. 3, διορύσσοντες τοὺς κοινοὺς τοίχους. τοιχώρυχος = ‘a housebreaker.’

Verse 21

21. ὅπουὁ θησαυρός. The words gain point if we think of the hoards buried in the earth.

Verse 22

22. ὁ λύχνος. ‘The lamp.’ See ch. Matthew 5:15, where the A.V. gives to λύχνος the meaning of ‘candle’; the translation here ‘light’ is still less correct. The eye is not its self the light, but contains the light; it is the ‘lamp’ of the body, the light-conveying principle. If the eye or lamp is single, it admits the influx of the pure light only; if an eye be evil, i.e. affected with disease, the body can receive no light at all. The whole passage is on the subject of the singleness of service to God. There can be but one treasure, one source of light, one master. The eye is the spiritual faculty, through which the light of God’s truth is recognised and admitted into the soul.

In the current phraseology ‘a good eye’ meant a bountiful heart, ‘an evil eye’ a covetous heart (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc.). This gives to our Lord’s words the thought, ‘covetousness darkens the soul more than anything else, it is a medium through which the light cannot pass’; cp. 1 Timothy 6:10, where the same truth is taught in a different figure, ῥίζα γὰρ πάντων τῶν κἀκῶν ἐστὶν ἡ φιλαργυρία.

The connection in which the words occur in Luke 11:34 is instructive. The inference there is that the spiritual perception of the Pharisees is dimmed, so that they cannot recognise Christ.

Verse 23

23. τὸ φῶς, here correctly in A.V. ‘the light.’ If the light be darkened by the diseased and impervious medium which prevents it gaining an entrance all will be darkness within. Covetousness permits no ray of divine light to enter.

Verse 24

24. Another illustration of the singleness of the Christian character, ‘the simplicity that is in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:3), drawn from the relation of master and slave.

δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν. Strictly, be a slave to two masters. The absolute subjection of the slave must be considered. The interests of the ‘two masters’ are presupposed to be diverse.

δυσί, a form condemned by the Atticists (Lob. Phryn. p. 210). In Thuc. VIII. 101, δυσὶν ἡμέραις is read by some editors, see Arnold ad loc. He reads δυσῖν, observing that the words practically differ only in accent.

μαμωνᾷ. An Aramaic and a Punic word (see Wetstein) signifying ‘wealth,’ probably connected with Hebr. Aman. So that the literal meaning would be, ‘that in which one trusts’ (Wilkii Clavis). It is said, on hardly sufficient authority, to have been personified as a god. This would strengthen the antithesis. See Schleusner sub voc. It stands here for all that mostly estranges men from God: cp. τὴν πλεονεξίαν ἥτις ἐστὶν εἰδωλολατρεία, Colossians 3:5.

Verse 25

25. διὰ τοῦτο, i.e. because this double service is impossible there must be no distraction of thought.

μὴ μεριμνᾶτε. ‘Do not be anxious,’ which was the meaning of ‘take no thought,’ when the E. V. was made. The same word occurs Philippians 4:6, μηδὲν μεριμνᾶτε, where, as here, the tense marks continuance, ‘do not be ever anxious.’ Cp. 1 Peter 5:7, πᾶσαν τὴν μέριμναν ὑμῶν ἐπιρίψαντες ἐπʼ αὐτόν. See Bp Lightfoot, On a Fresh Revision of the New Testament, &c., p. 171.

The argument in the verse is: such anxiety is unnecessary; God gave the life and the body; will He not give the smaller gifts of food and clothing?

Socrates describes this to be the object of his mission: ‘to persuade young and old,’ μήτε σωμάτων ἐπιμελεῖσθαι μήτε χρημάτων πρότερον μηδὲ οὕτω σφόδρα ὡς τῆς ψυχῆς ὅπως ὡς ἀρίστη ἔσται. See Matthew 6:34 for a continuation of this quotation.

Verses 25-34

25–34. The parallel passage (Luke 12:22-31) follows immediately the parable of the Rich Fool.

Verse 26

26. ἐμβλέψατε. The aorist implies the instantaneous glance possibly at large flocks of birds whirling at that moment in the sky, just as Canon Tristram observed on that very spot ‘myriads of rock pigeons. In absolute clouds they dashed to and fro in the ravine, whirling round with a rush and a whirr that could be felt like a rush of wind.’ The cliffs too are full of caves, the secure resting-places of ‘noble griffons, lammergeyers, lanner falcons, and several species of eagles’ (Land of Israel, p. 446). From this description and from the emphatic ἕν στρουθίον, ch. Matthew 10:29, it seems that the multitude of the birds is a leading thought in this illustration just as the colour and brightness of the flowers is the most prominent point in the other.

οὐ σπείρουσιν κ.τ.λ. There is no argument here against forethought or labour. In one sense ‘trusting to providence’ is idleness and a sin. God has appointed labour as the means whereby man provides for his wants. Even birds shew forethought, and search for the food which God has provided for them.

διαφέρειν, to differ by way of excellence, i.e. ‘to excel’: μᾶλλον redundant strengthens the verb.

Verse 27

27. προσθεῖναι ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλικίαν αὐτοῦ πῆχυν ἕνα. ἡλικία, either ‘stature’ or ‘duration of life,’ so that the meaning may be ‘add a cubit to his life.’ Comp. Psalms 39:5, ‘Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth.’ This rendering falls in better with the connection. With all his anxiety man cannot add to his length of days, or clothe himself like the flowers.

Some reasons however may be adduced in favour of the rendering of the A.V., which coincides with the Vulgate. [1] It is better to retain the literal meaning of πῆχυν. [2] The rapid growth of vegetation in the East would make the thought more natural than with us. Comp. the well-known story in Herod, VIII. 55, δευτέρῃ δὲ ἡμέρῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐμπρήσιος Ἀθηναίων οἱ θύειν ὑπὸ βασιλέος κελευόμενοιὤρων βλαστὸν ἐκ τοῦ στελέχεος ὅσον τε πηχυαῖον ἀναδεδραμηκότα. See Godet on Luke 12:25, and Maldonatus ad loc.

Verse 28

28. ἐνδύματος. The birds are an example of God’s care in providing food, the flowers of His care in providing apparel. The Creator promises that the care shown to the lowliest of his works shall be extended to the noblest.

τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ, identified by Dr Thomson (Land and Book, p. 256) with a species of lily found in the neighbourhood of Hûlêh. He speaks of having met with ‘this incomparable flower, in all its loveliness … around the northern base of Tabor, and on the hills of Nazareth, where our Lord spent His youth.’ Canon Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible) claims this honour for the beautiful and varied anemone coronaria. ‘If in the wondrous richness of bloom which characterises the Land of Israel in spring any one plant can claim preeminence, it is the anemone, the most natural flower for our Lord to pluck and seize upon as an illustration, whether walking in the fields or sitting on the hill-side.’

αὐξάνουσινκοπιῶσιννήθουσιν. Two reasons are assigned for the use of the plural verb after a neuter plural signifying material objects: either [1] the various parts of the subject are thought of separately rather than collectively; or [2] the action predicated of the subject is conceived as being repeated at successive periods. It may perhaps be a refinement to appeal to these reasons in this particular case, though both apply: probably the preceding structure, Matthew 6:26, influences the syntax here. Other instances of this anomaly in the N.T. are 1 Timothy 5:25, τὰ ἄλλως ἔχοντα (ἔργα) κρυβῆναι οὐ δύνανται. Revelation 1:19, ἃ εἶδες καὶ ἃ εἰσίν.

Verse 29

29. περιεβάλετο, ‘arrayed himself.’ The middle voice has a special force. Though he arrayed himself, the lilies, who trusted to God for their array, are more beautiful than he.

Verse 30

30. χόρτος, lit. [1] ‘an enclosed place,’ especially for feeding cattle, hence [2] ‘provender,’ grass, hay, [3] then generally ‘vegetation,’ flowers and grass growing in the fields, which when dried are used for fuel in the East. For the first sense cp. Hom. Il. XI. 774, αὐλῆς ἐν χόρτῳ; for the second Eur. Alc. 495, θηρῶν ὀρείων χόρτον οὐχ ἴππων λέγεις. The third sense is not classical.

εἰς κλίβανον βαλλόμενον. The κλίβανος was a vessel of baked clay wider at the bottom than the top. The process of baking meal-cakes or Chupatties in India, as a friend describes it to me, illustrates this passage and also the meaning of ἄρτοι (ch. Matthew 14:17 and elsewhere) and the expression κλάσαι ἄρτον (ch. Matthew 15:36, Acts 20:7). “The ‘oven’ is a jar-shaped vessel formed of tempered clay sunk in the ground. The fuel (χόρτος of the text) is ‘cast into the oven’ and lighted. The meal is first made into cakes, which are then taken up and whirled round between the two hands edgeways, and patted until they are as thin and about the size of a pancake, when by a dexterous movement the hand is introduced into the oven and the chupattie thrown against the side. There it sticks of its own adhesion; as it bakes, the edges curl and peel off, when nearly done and in danger of falling, a stick with a curved spike holds it until the correct moment, and serves to withdraw it from the oven. The result is a crisp thin cake, not unlike our oat-cake.”

The Attic form of the word is κρίβανος: in later Greek both forms are retained and used indiscriminately. For this interchange of λ and ρ cp. σιγηρὸς for σιγηλός, βουκόλος and αἰγικορεύς. Lob. Phryn. 652.

ἀμφιέννυσιν. This word is used appropriately of the delicate membrane that clothes and protects the flower. Accordingly the thought suggested is not only the brilliant colour of the flower, but also the protection of the surrounding cuticle or sheath, which thin and delicate as it is is yet ‘little sensitive to external and even chemical agencies.’ The periblem (cp. περιεβάλετο above) is a technical term with botanists for the cortical tissue or inner membrane underlying the epidermis. See Thomé’s Struct. and Phys. Botany (translated), Ch. III.

ὀλιγόπιστοι. A translation of a common Rabbinical expression.

Verse 32

32. ἐπιζητοῦσιν. Either [1] ‘seek with eagerness’; ἐπὶ having the force of ‘on,’ ‘further,’ so earnestly. See Vaughan on Romans 11:7. Or [2] ‘make special objects of pursuit,’ from the sense of direction or aim in ἐπί. Cp. ἐπικωμωδεῖν, ‘to select for caricature.’ Riddell, Plato, Apol. Socr. 31 D. With the general thought of the passage cp. Romans 14:17, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ βρῶσις καὶ πόσις ἀλλὰ δικαιοσύνη καὶ εἰρήνη καὶ χαρὰ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ.

Verse 33

33. τὴν δικ. αὐτοῦ, i.e. τὴν δικ. Θεοῦ (Romans 1:17), the leading thought in that epistle. It is the aim (ζητεῖτε) of the Christian life. Note how Christians are taught at least to aim at (ζητεῖν) righteousness, when the heathen earnestly aim at (ἐπιζητεῖν) lower objects.

ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν. One of the traditional sayings of Christ is closely parallel to this: αἰτεῖτε τὰ μεγάλα καὶ τὰ μικρὰ ὑμῖν προστεθήσεται, καὶ αἰτεῖτε τὰ ἐπουράνια καὶ τὰ ἐπίγεια προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν. Orig. de Orat. 2.

For a corresponding sentiment in Greek philosophy cp. Plato, Apol. Socr. p. 30, ἐξ ἀρετῆς χρήματα καὶ τἄλλα ἀγαθὰ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἅπαντα καὶ ἰδίᾳ καὶ δημοσίᾳ. The whole passage is worth reading in this connection. Such passages bear witness that what the best heathen recognised as their best thoughts were in fact the nearest to Christianity. The same Spirit led Gentile as well as Jew.

Verse 34

34. μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε εἰς τὴν αὔριον. Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr., quotes a Rabbinical saying in illustration: ‘there is enough of trouble in the very moment.’

ἡ κακία. Here in the unclassical sense of ‘trouble,’ ‘sorrow,’ cp. Amos 3:6, εἰ ἔσται κακία ἐν πόλει ἣν Κύριος οὐκ ἐποίησεν;


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Matthew 6:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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