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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 19

 

 

Verses 1-30


The Question of Divorce. The Rich Young Man

1, 2. End of the Galilean ministry. The Peræn ministry begins (Mark 10:1; Luke 9:51 cp. Luke 17:11). The time was now late summer of 28 a.d. The Passion was less than six months distant. Jesus finally left Galilee, and entered upon what is generally called the 'Peræan ministry,' the scene of which was partly Peræa beyond Jordan, a district extending, roughly, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, and partly Jerusalem and Judæa. To this period must be assigned a visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles (September), John 7:2 another at the Feast of Dedication (December), John 10:23 also the mission of the Seventy, and many of the incidents in the great section peculiar to St. Luke's Gospel (Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:28).

1. Into the coasts (RV 'borders') of Judæa beyond Jordan] i.e. into the southern part of Peræa, opposite to Judæa.

3-9. The question of divorce (Mark 10:2 see on Matthew 5:32). The Pharisees probably intended to entrap Jesus into some contradiction of the Law of Moses, which might form the basis of a charge before the Sanhedrin. Some, however, think that, as Peræa was in the territory of Herod Antipas, they wished to inveigle Him into speaking against that monarch's divorce of the daughter of Aretas: see on Matthew 14:3. St. Matthew's narrative is fuller and perhaps more original than St. Mark's.

3. For every cause] In St. Mark the question simply is, 'Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?' Jesus was asked to decide the point debated between the school of Hillel, who allowed divorce for every cause, and that of Shammai, who allowed it only for adultery. Rabbi Akiba (a Hillelite) said, 'If a man sees a woman handsomer than his own wife, he may put her away, because it is said, “If she find not favour in his eyes.” The school of Hillel said, 'If the wife cook her husband's food ill, by over-salting or overroasting it, she is to be put away.' On the other hand, Rabbi Jochanan (a Shammaite) said, 'The putting away of a wife is odious.' Both schools agreed that a divorced wife could not be taken back.

Both schools objected to (though perhaps they did not forbid) the divorce of a first wife, with regard to which the dictum of Rabbi Eliezer, 'For the divorcing of a first wife, even the altar itself sheds tears,' was generally approved.

4. Male and female] i.e. one for one.

5. And said] Our Lord regards the words alluded to (see Genesis 2:24) as spoken by divine inspiration. His wife] Ancient and modern interpreters find in the singular a prohibition of polygamy. The rabbis allowed three or four wives. 'It is lawful' (they said) 'to have many wives together, even as many as you will, but our wise men have decreed that no man have above four wives.'

6. What therefore God hath joined together] Our Lord takes up higher ground than either school. He goes behind the Law of Moses, which was in many cases a concession to Jewish infirmities and prejudices, to God's original intention at the creation of the human race, and declares this to be more venerable than the written Law, which the Jewish schools idolised. See further on Matthew 5:31, Matthew 5:32.

7. A writing of divorcement] see Deuteronomy 24:1. Jewish divorces were always from the bond of marriage, so that both parties could marry again, unless the husband specially restrained the wife's liberty in that respect. Divorces were thus worded: 'I N. have put away, dismissed, and expelled thee N., who heretofore wast my wife. But now I have dismissed thee, so that thou art free, and in thy own power, to marry whosoever shall please thee; and let no man hinder thee. And let this be to thee a bill of rejection from me according to the Law of Moses and Israel.

'Reuben, the son of Jacob, witness.

'Eliezer, the son of Gilead, witness' (from J. Lightfoot).

8. Because of the hardness of your hearts] The rabbis regarded the liberty of divorce as a special privilege conferred by God upon the chosen people. Rabbi Chananiah said, 'God has not subscribed His name to divorces, except among Israelites, as if He said, I have conceded to the Israelites the right of dismissing their wives; but to the Gentiles I have not conceded it.' Jesus retorts that it is not the privilege, but the infamy and reproach of Israel, that Moses found it necessary to tolerate divorce. Moses allowed it only for the 'hardness of your hearts,' i.e. your unwillingness to accept God's will in the matter of marriage, or, as others explain it, for yolir brutality towards your wives, which would lead you to maltreat them, unless you had the privilege of divorcing them.

9. See on Matthew 5:32. The exact text of this v. is very uncertain. Whosoever] Some ancient authorities read, 'Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, maketh her an adulteress,' omitting the rest of the verse.

10-12. Conversation ('in the house,' Mk) on marriage and celibacy (Mark 10:10-12;). The words of Jesus with regard to celibacy must be neither exaggerated nor minimised. They recognise and honour, along with marriage, the vocation of celibacy, when it is embraced for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. The qualification is important. The Essenes of our Lord's time were celibates because they regarded marriage as unholy. The Christian hermits of later times adopted celibacy simply as a means towards attaining their own individual perfection. Many adopt it now because they will not face the responsibilities and anxieties of married life. The celibacy which Christ approves is that which is adopted for the sake of doing good to others in active works of religion and mercy, as in the case of the great sisterhoods and missionary brotherhoods. Any attempt to enforce celibacy upon whole classes of persons, as, for instance, upon the clergy in general, is forbidden by Christ ('He that is able to receive it, let him receive it'), and is also inexpedient.

10. If the case of the man] 'They mean that, if the tie of marriage is so strict that there is no separation except for adultery, it is inexpedient to marry. For how can a husband bear all the other faults of an abandoned woman?' (Euthymius).

11. This saying] viz. 'that it is not expedient to marry.' The disciples had spoken of a worldly and prudential celibacy. This, Jesus warns them, is unnatural and perilous. The only celibacy which is safe and acceptable to God is that which is embraced for religious reasons in consequence of a divine call ('to whom it is given,' viz. 'by God').

12. For the kingdom of heaven's sake] i.e. who have embraced celibacy not merely for their own personal sanctification, but in order to undertake work for the advancement of Christs kingdom on earth.

13-15. Christ and little children (Mark 10:13; Luke 18:15). A touching incident teaching the same lesson as the birth and infancy of Jesus Himself, viz. the sanctity of childhood. The disciples thought that children were not important enough to claim the Master's attention, and this aroused His just anger (St. Mark). We may learn from this that catechising and other ministrations to children are not to be despised, even by the most intellectual.

Most Christians find in this passage the leading principles upon which infant baptism is based. These are, (1) that children, however young, are capable of receiving divine grace. This is made clear by the fact that Christ blessed them (Mark 10:16). (2) Christ commands infants to be brought to Him, and we know of no way of bringing them except by baptism. (3) He declares infants to be specially fitted—more fitted even than adults—for admission into His kingdom (Luke 18:16-17; Mark 10:14-15), but the only covenanted admission into that kingdom is by baptism (John 3:5).

The chief objection to infant baptism is that it is not expressly commanded in the NT. But if the principle upon which it is based is found, that suffices. The NT. was not intended to be a code of law, like the Pentateuch. Moreover, the idea that infants could be brought into covenant with God during unconscious infancy was already familiar. Every male Israelite was circumcised on the eighth day after birth (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3), and the apostles certainly regarded baptism as, equally with circumcision, a federal or covenanting rite (Colossians 2:11-12). It is also worthy of note that baptism as an initiatory rite is older than the time of Christ. When a Gentile was converted to Judaism, he was admitted into covenant with God by three rites—baptism, circumcision, and sacrifice, and his infant children were baptised with him. This is expressly testified by the oldest rabbinical code, the Mishna. When, therefore, the apostles baptised the 'households' of their converts (Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33; 1 Corinthians 1:16), they were only conforming to the usual Jewish practice in the case of converts. It is no valid objection to infant baptism that infants cannot have repentance and faith, because they are taught to exhibit these as soon as they reach the age of reason.

16-22. The rich young man (Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18). St. Luke calls him a 'ruler,' i.e. either a member of the Sanhedrin, or a ruler of a synagogue. The incident is a striking example of the seductive power of wealth. The young man was so good, and so near to the Kingdom of God, that Jesus 'looked upon him and loved him' (Mk); and yet he failed, because though he loved the Kingdom much, he loved money more.

16. Good Master] RV omits 'good.'

17. Why callest thou me good? etc.] RV 'Why askest thou me concerning that which is good? One there is who is good'(see on Mark 10:18).

18. All the commandments selected are those which test a man's love to his neighbour. Love of one's neighbour is a better test of inward religion than ceremonial piety.

20. All these things, etc.] The answer showed how little the young man knew his own heart, but he was only repeating the vainglorious boasting of his teachers. The Talmud represents God as speaking of 'My sanctified ones, who have kept the whole law from Aleph to Taw.' Moses, Aaron, and Samuel were said to have kept the whole Law. It is said that when Rabbi Chanina lay upon his deathbed, he said to the angel of death, 'Bring hither the book of the Law, and see whether there is anything in it which I have not observed.'

21. If thou wilt (RV 'wouldest') be perfect] Jesus, who knew what is in man, knew that love of wealth was this man's besetting sin. He therefore urged him to abandon it, according to the precept, 'If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.' Jesus was dealing with a case of covetousness, and, therefore, prescribed a proper remedy for covetousness, without recommending its general and indiscriminate adoption. Treasure in heaven] see on Matthew 6:1-20.

23-26. Conversation with the disciples on the perils of riches (Mark 10:23; Luke 18:24).

24. It is easier for a camel] Jesus rhetorically calls that impossible which is very difficult, or impossible without special grace. Such proverbs occur in most Eastern languages. We are told that Rabbi Sheshith said to Rabbi Amram, 'Perhaps thou art one of those of Pombeditha, who can make an elephant pass through a needle's eye' The Greeks said, 'It is easier to hide five elephants under one's arm'; the Latins, 'More easily would a locust bring forth an elephant.' Some have thought (but it seems without sufficient authority) that 'the eye of a needle' is a term applied to a small gate for foot-passengers, situated at the side of the large city gate through which a camel would naturally pass.

The Gk. word kamçlos (or, with one letter altered, kamîlos) also means 'rope,' and some interpreters give it this meaning here.

27-30. The reward of those who forsake all to follow Christ (Mark 10:28; Luke 18:28).

28. These words may refer to the position to be accorded the Apostles in the Church, after the resurrection, personally during their lives, afterwards through their writings and teaching: or they may have a real Eschatological sense, that is, they may refer to the new conditions after the final consummation.

In the regeneration] cp. Luke 22:28-30. The word occurs only once again in the NT., viz. Titus 3:5, where it is used of the grace of baptism. Here it is an open question whether by the Regeneration Jesus means His own resurrection, or the general resurrection at the last day, accompanied by the renewal of all created things.

Dalman says, 'The unusual expression “regeneration” is distinctly Greek, and cannot be translated literally into Hebrew or Aramaic' The idea, however, is Hebrew, for it was believed that the Messiah would restore the world to its primitive perfection. There are also many analogies for the use of Regeneration in the sense of a personal resurrection. Josephus speaks of the resurrection as 'being born a second time.' St. Paul speaks of Christ's resurrection as His birth or begetting into a new and glorious life (Acts 13:33). Among the Greeks, too, Regeneration was the usual term for the transmigration of a man's soul into another body to begin a new life, which would be a kind of resurrection.

Judging] may also mean 'ruling.'

The twelve tribes of Israel] i.e. not the unbelieving Jews who would reject the apostles' preaching, but the Universal Church, the tribes of the New Israel of God. See Revelation 7, where the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:4-8) are identical with 'the great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and kindred and people and tongues' (Matthew 19:9). The apostles at the time (perhaps even the evangelist when he wrote) understood it of Israel after the flesh, but in this case, as in so many others, enlightenment was to come later (see Intro.).

29. An hundredfold] referring to spiritual compensations in this life: see on Mk.

30. See the following parable, especially Matthew 20:16.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 19:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-19.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, August 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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